What If the Rank & File Really are Stupid?

April 6, 2010 | 25 comments
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Warning - No Stupide People Beyond This PointThat is, what if they really are perniciously ignorant or uneducated or immature or tenuous neophytes or fragile (speaking of both intellect and testimony)? What if they’re as hopeless as some in and out of the Church so often say and treat them as being?

Let me be clear, I’m thoroughly convinced that they are none of these things. From my experience, the rank & file – that is, your average, everyday churchgoer – tend to be fairly high caliber, decently educated people, wonderfully susceptible to practical and intellectual improvement. Our prophets and our history back me up on this. Nevertheless, I’m shocked at the steady barrage of accusations (in words and deeds) regarding the strength of Mormons’ intellect and testimony. And I find it rather unsettling that these accusations seem to come most often from fellow Mormons. It seems we sometimes have a very low opinion of ourselves.

Say, however, I accepted the unsubstantiated accusations of stupidity (fragility, etc., again, launched in word and deed). What ought we to do? (My explicit assumption is that those who find the rank & file stupid ought to be working to improve the situation; I find anything less to be morally repugnant).  Here are some approaches that I think absolutely do NOT work. Yet Mormons and non-Mormons who are critical of the rank & file frequently embrace many of them. Specifically, who is the target here? Who is it I’m claiming adopt these unhelpful approaches? Primarily us individuals. You. Me (I’ve certainly been guilty at times, despite my rejecting the premise – I think we all need to be vigilant). I’ve written them in a sufficiently abstract manner so as to cast a wide net; several examples ought to come to mind with each approach. But if you can’t see yourself in some of them, then either you’re delusional or a much more exotic creature than I am.

  1. Treat them stupid: Pretend that the rank & file are incapable of sustaining an in-depth study or discussion on any subject, let alone theology. Pretend either that there is nothing beyond the basics, or that anything beyond the basics is inherently suspect. Interpret “milk before meat” as a positive and proper pedagogical approach, rather than in the pejorative sense that Paul meant it (usually our current pronouncements declaring the need for “milk before meat” are really strategic, attempting to cover up the fact that there is no meat or that meat is bad). Perhaps the most straightforward way to do these things is to never deviate from simplistic “basics” in your study, teaching or participation with the rank & file year after year. “Wrest” the scriptures by refusing to see (or teach) more than the basics in them or concluding what they say before you read (or teach). Support a collectively uniform approach to educational norms and only mildly tolerate private intellectual pursuit (e.g., tolerate it until someone attempts to share a privately obtained, unfamiliar point in your Sunday School class).
  2. Check out or abandon the field: Separate yourself from them. Refuse to soil yourself by either thinking of yourself as one of or associating more than necessary with the rank & file. An effective way of doing this, while creating a robust barrier between you and them, is to belittle them behind their backs. Again in order to avoid any sort of association or accountability for the rank & file’s condition, try to find spheres of discourse that allow you to ridicule them anonymously.
  3. Mercilessly attack them: This is sometimes related to #2. It entails doing what Joseph Smith claims the learned, worthy priests of his day did to him as soon as they heard of his vision. No spineless attempts to reform the hopeless rank & file. Eschew solidarity and steel yourself against any feelings of a genuine obligation to assist them. Instead, stick it to them whenever and wherever you can.
  4. Pretend like it’s just fine to be stupid: Preach the good word that the rank & file are good enough, they’re smart enough, and gosh darn it, you like them just they way they are. All is well in Zion, yeah, despite any potential ignorance or immaturity, Zion prospereth. Endorse the status quo in word and deed. Ignore the scriptural and prophetic statements that emphasize the need for continual education and improvement. After all, we’ll all get a celestial body and brain along with a Urim & Thummim in the next life anyway, so why burden one another with an ethic of progression and intellectual accountability now?
  5. Exploit their stupidity (i.e., priestcraft in all its varieties): This approach is often used in conjunction with #4. It can also be a cynical approach related to #2. Take advantage of their (perhaps justifiable) ignorance and/or naïveté through extremist demagoguery, attempting to convince them that they are really the righteous elite, just the way they are, and will remain such if they continue to listen to/support/financially contribute to you or your organizations, publications, etc. In general, use flattery to set yourself up as a light to guide them. This approach is made even more effective if you paint for them the seductive picture that not only are they the righteous elite, but that they are also the sole bulwark standing against the masses of polluted Babylon who have launched a full-frontal assault against all goodness. Keep them ignorant through fear, convincing them any attempt to traffic with Babylon will inevitably result in their corruption (reminiscent of Mosiah 9:1-2). In its incarnation in conjunction with #2 (cynically exploiting those you consider beneath you), rather than a bulwark of righteousness, the seductive picture is a bulwark of various other things: being “in the know,” culturally sophisticated, genuinely honest, etc. who stand against the unwashed masses of . . . [insert unsavory description].

Of course no one thinks these approaches are helpful. Why, then, are these approaches so prevalent? Am I wrong in thinking that we ought to be striving to improve the situation? These are good questions for non-Mormons engaging in any kind of dialogue with us. But they are particularly pressing questions for anyone who has covenanted to build Zion.

Of course, what I’m actually advocating is that we reject these approaches altogether, along with the suppositions that goes along with them (specifically, that there is a “rank & file” that is separate from “me/us” and that “they” are stupid, fragile, etc.). I think there are much healthier ways of reacting, ways that really will improve the situation.

Having confessed my scandalized skepticism on our stupidity and fragility, and condemned what I see as pervasive and utterly unhelpful approaches, it’s now left for me to discuss, concretely, the approaches that I think would be helpful.

First, there’s a grand difference that I want to point out between the negative approaches discussed above and the positive approaches I list below. The negative approaches only make sense against the background assumption that the rank & file really are weak, fragile, stupid (etc.). The positive approaches listed below seem equally appropriate and efficacious, whatever their (that is, OUR) intellectual and spiritual caliber.

  1. Love your neighbor. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all the heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matt 22:37-39) Conspicuously lacking in each of the negative approaches above is love. Love, like faith, is far more than a psychological state. It’s a whole-bodied way of being and acting in the world. And it transforms people, draws you to them, just as Christ has drawn us to him through love. Love is the only way to reveal to someone their ignorance in a way that inspires them to overcome that ignorance as opposed to defend it or reject your call to change. Love as a response to stupidity is a bit vague and fluffy, but I’m also convinced it’s right and primary.
  2. Reject the division. Along with assuming the stupidity of the rank & file, each of the negative approaches assumes an unhealthy, condescending division between rank & file and [fill-in-the-blank]. I’m utterly unimpressed with the simplistic categorizations, delineations, segregations, and other methods of imposed alienation at play in the very term “rank & file” when used in this manner. This is in part because such divisions lack of a defendable criterion for making the distinctions or sustaining the categories, together with my skepticism that we’ll ever have the epistemological acumen needed to do so. But more than this, I’m convinced of the practical damage that these kinds of hierarchical divisions do to the integrity of our Mormon community. They undermine unity (i.e., solidarity) by their very nature. I don’t mean to suggest that we close our eyes to difference. After all, I’m describing my own weak sort of division here (those who take unhealthy & negative approaches toward the rank & file and those who don’t). Rather, I want to suggest that we recognize that regardless of difference, we’re all on the good ship Zion together. Particularly when it comes to an issue like stupidity and fragility, there just doesn’t seem to be a sizable enough distinction to pretend we’re on a pedestal. Comparing any of us to God (our goal), we’re all stupid and weak. Attempting to promote alienation as opposed to solidarity – wherever we find ourselves on the spectrum of belief and education – is merely fouling one’s own nest (to put it euphemistically).
  3. Create a culture that values education. Luckily, we Mormons already have the doctrine and history to support such a culture, and in many areas of the church it’s presently on display. Again, each of the negative approaches is undermined in a culture that instantiates education and intellectual development as a universal goal. In such a culture there would be no room to rest on one’s laurels, neglecting one’s own development or the necessity of positively contributing to others. “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:32) It’s time we start reading Paul the way he spoke, and recognize that the need for milk before meat is a disparaging condemnation, not the pedagogical golden rule it’s so often taken as.
  4. Create a culture that values constructive criticism. Just as valuable (and sometimes more valuable) as seeing the mistakes of (say) ancient Israel and hearing Moses’ criticism of their actions, is to hear Moses’ diachronic criticism of us. A self-reflective and self-critical culture is by its very nature a robust one, primed for improvement. One way that our weaknesses become our strengths is by developing a stomach for and constructive response to criticism. Being able to honestly reflect on and accept just criticism of ourselves is one way of both building friendships and thriving in the midst of those who hold an ill will towards us. We’re all aware of the dangers of cynical, unbalanced, unconstructive criticism. But there is certainly as great a danger in developing immunity to criticism.
  5. Teach one level higher than you judge your class to be at. This is a lesson I’ve picked up teaching over the last few years and I’m certainly a convert. My linguist wife tells me that this is a common way of teaching a foreign language – instructors speak to their students one level higher than what the students can produce (it’s called i+1). Of course review is necessary, but ought not be the focus. Of course you need to teach to your weakest students, but you’ve got to teach to your strongest ones as well. Christ’s parables are the perfect example of how we don’t need to sacrifice the one to the other. A good lesson, like a good parable or aphorism, like our endowment ceremony, will be accessible and delectable to students at all levels. Without challenging and extending students’ reach they become bored, disengaged, stagnant – they cease to learn. This same point goes for our own approach to studying the gospel.
  6. Be passionate. I don’t mean gimmicks. It’s not about entertaining or seducing or being melodramatic. But passion is inspiring and contagious, especially when it’s genuine. Teach with passion. Study with passion. Be absolutely, publicly committed to improvement. The gospel is the most inspiring, moving, existentially exigent, and deeply rich subject that there is. “How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of [God].” (Jacob 4:8) Given this fact, we’ve got more than enough to rivet our souls and increase our passion. Too often we allow norms of reservation and caution and self-consciousness to squander our passion.
  7. Do your research and point others to good resources. There is an infinite pile of good resources to delve into out there – many of them outside our own faith tradition. And people love getting recommendations. As life goes, we often don’t follow up on the recommendations given to us. But we really do read the stuff we’re handed. Among the greatest experiences of my intellectual life was working with a slew of retired Senior Foreign Service Officers. These former ambassadors, deputy-chiefs of mission, inspector generals and others sustained an incredible culture of learning and improvement by sharing. Our lunch table was an inter-library loan center and compilation of current political analysis articles and essays from a broad spectrum of sources. I learned far more about foreign policy and international affairs by consuming the sources they thrust under my nose and participating in the spectacular debates that were a regular part of our work atmosphere than I did in my International Relations graduate program. Our ward and quorum/axilliary classrooms should have similar “tables” for sharing the best books and ideas from all fields of learning with one another.
  8. Be anxiously engaged. (With the emphasis to be on engaged not anxious J) I think that as Mormons we generally succeed at not being Sunday members only. We live our religion in large part because our religion is a way of life. But too often we’re only Sunday students, and tragically, sometimes nothing more than Sunday School students. If you perceive this as a problem or challenge for yourself or amongst those around you, be anxiously engaged. One of the greatest gospel and educational experiences I’ve ever had came from a Mormon book club started by members of my Elders Quorum. My current ward has the closest thing to Zion that I’ve ever experienced in their monthly temple nights, which always include dinner and a late night of terrific conversation. I’ve been privileged to observe and even participate in genuine home teaching experiences, where the home teachers were anxiously engaged, not merely fulfilling a monthly duty. These always involved intimate and tailored teaching. I weekly see members of my ward who have read and obviously thought deeply about the week’s lesson prior to Church. Often times they mention poignant conversations they’ve had that week with spouse or friends. These participants are unquestionably a rising tide that lifts all members in class. Gather. Share. Explore. There are a plethora of such opportunities available to all of us to be anxiously engaged in improving our Mormon community.
  9. And finally, what almost goes without saying: Blog at Times & Seasons!

I’m convinced that these approaches are the right solution, no matter what the answer turns out to be to the question of how converted, how intellectual, how mature our members are.

These positive approaches cover a broad range – from culture to pedagogy. I’ve tried to avoid getting too specific on things like improving Sunday School teaching (there are other T&S posts for that, like this one). What unifies these approaches is a commitment to solidarity and improving our lot. One thing I hope you take away from this is the fact that how we learn and teach is a direct reflection of how we relate to one another and how seriously we take our religion.

I’ve no doubt you’ve got other good ideas and suggestions. I hope you’ll take the time to share your thoughts and other approaches that you’re familiar with – ones that fail and ones that succeed.

25 Responses to What If the Rank & File Really are Stupid?

  1. Robert Ricks on April 6, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for this reminder to re-examine our prejudices, James. I absolutely agree that how we learn and teach in a church context is indicative of overall attitude to our co-religionists. The oft-lamented limitations of the correlated teaching material do not prevent enthusiastic and humble teachers from offering powerful learning experiences to their students. I’ve seen it happen.

  2. Paul M on April 6, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Half the population is “below average.” Are gospel principles targeted at the meaty part of the bell curve? to those to the left? to those to the right? Does the LDS practice of careful consideration before baptizing the mentally retarded shed any light on the subject? I think that some of your suggestions imply answers to these questions that I don’t think are settled.

  3. James Olsen on April 6, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Thanks Robert. PaulM, I’ll admit I’m not quite sure what you’re saying. And I’m quite intrigued by your raising the issue of the mentally handicapped and baptism, though once again, I don’t see the connection you’re alluding to. I hope I made clear above the fact that we’ve got an obligation to teach persons (and learn from them) at all levels, just as Jesus did. And when we’re successful, our teaching and learning moments have the same outcome as his did.

  4. Dane on April 6, 2010 at 11:21 am

    My big insight on this recently is that it’s easy to interpret diverging interests as mental deficiency. In other words, when I find myself judging others poorly, it’s usually because they’re not passionately interested in the same things that I am. What I don’t see (or value) are the things they are passionately interested in. The fact that my brethren in the quorum are not especially interested some obscure field of church history doesn’t mean that they’re not engaging, intelligent, interesting individuals in other areas of their lives (and they likely wonder how I couldn’t care about [insert activity here]).

  5. Scott B. on April 6, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Great post, James. I was raised in a home where people were typically judged (harshly) according to the level of perceived intelligence/education that they possessed, and even though I realized as a teenager that this approach to human interaction is utterly toxic, and have spent the past 15 years trying to not be like that, that upbringing nevertheless left a lingering attitude of smug in my own life and, unless I’m careful, poisons my opportunities for service and friendship in my ward.

    This is all highly ironic, of course, given that I’m about as intelligent as a cardboard box.

  6. Kristine on April 6, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    James, I think this is really great, because it shows that both what is often called a “conservative” approach–let’s protect people by never engaging difficult theological or historical issues–and a “liberal” approach, which bemoans boring, stupid lessons and the people who give them, are rooted in the same lack of fellow-feeling for our brothers and sisters, and are equally damaging to the cause of Zion. Nicely articulated, and really helpful reminder (er, call to repentance) for me. Thank you.

  7. larryco_ on April 6, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Actually, I participate in #4 – pretend like it’s just fine to be stupid – all the time. I keep my mouth shut in priesthood and Sunday school when I hear comments that are patently incorrect nearly every week. I, at a certain level, buy in to the “if it’s faith-promoting, it’s ok” over the “look at me, I’m more well-read than you” countercomment that may shake up someone’s testamony. I figure, if they want to mess up the foundational structure of their belief system, they can do it the old-fashioned way like I did: read everything you can get your hands on (striving originally to be “The Great Apologist”), watch as your world-view attempts frantically to adjust to the bombardment of dissonant information, and, finally, realizing that you may be the guy Paul was talking about that is “ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of truth”.

  8. ECS on April 6, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Excellent post.

    Loved this:

    “This approach is made even more effective if you paint for them the seductive picture that not only are they the righteous elite, but that they are also the sole bulwark standing against the masses of polluted Babylon who have launched a full-frontal assault against all goodness.”

    And this:

    “A self-reflective and self-critical culture is by its very nature a robust one, primed for improvement. One way that our weaknesses become our strengths is by developing a stomach for and constructive response to criticism. Being able to honestly reflect on and accept just criticism of ourselves is one way of both building friendships and thriving in the midst of those who hold an ill will towards us. We’re all aware of the dangers of cynical, unbalanced, unconstructive criticism. But there is certainly as great a danger in developing immunity to criticism.”

    Amen.

  9. Paul M on April 6, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    James:

    Your suggestions #3, 4, 5, & 7 all presuppose some baseline level of intelligence. Think of it in terms of IQ. Do gospel principles require a minimum 80 IQ (the threshold for classification of mental retardation) to be understood? 90 IQ? 100 IQ? Do you begin to do a disservice if you attempt to preach the gospel in a manner that requires a level of intelligence above the minimum threshhold as you may be excluding those that meet the minimum? By teaching up are you distorting gospel principles?

  10. Scott B. on April 6, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    My big insight on this recently is that it’s easy to interpret diverging interests as mental deficiency. In other words, when I find myself judging others poorly, it’s usually because they’re not passionately interested in the same things that I am.

    Ding ding ding ding.

  11. Raymond Takashi Swenson on April 6, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    I recently read one of Hugh Nibley’s essays, in which he noted that if he could not explain a concept to a five year old child, in terms the child could understand, then he (Nibley) did not truly understand it himself. That is not to say that much of his writing and lectures are not full of references to obscure schilarly works and untranslated statements in foreign languages (even if it’s just French or German) that can be a hard slog for many of us to follow. Even when I was a (more) ignorant teenager, what I could understand was intriguing and opened vistas of the unplumbed intellectual depth of the Book of Mormon.

    One of the things that Nibley complained of in many of his essays and speeches was the fact that some students at BYU complained about having to learn things that they didn’t already know. One of the points that Nibley makes clear in his body of work is that neither he nor anyone else has final answers to anything, and that the duty of the Saints is to keep after “further light and knowledge” no matter how much they thought they knew at any given time. He sometimes described how he would ask his students what they were going to do with the thousand years in the Millenium (let alone the eternities), and how long it took them to realize that one of the main things we would be doing is learning some of the vast body of knowledge of which we are currently ignorant.

    Since I didn’t attend BYU, I had only a few opportunities over the years to speak with Nibley, but I always found him open and affable and willing to spend time conversing with people like me (at various ages) and my young daughter, then a student in Jr. High. I felt that he epitomized the positive attitude described in your post: acknowledging the vast ignorance of all of us, but doing everything he could in love to remedy it, one listener at a time.

    I would compare Nibley with some of my mathematics professors, who used straightforward language to question us and engage our curiosity and reason and invite us to work out the next step by ourselves, so that we would understand it more fully. Some of that I attribute to the fact that many of them were transplants to Utah from the University of Texas and thus were allergic to pretension, so that they discussed complex analysis and topology with us in the accents of cowboys just come in from rounding up doughies. They had an emotional excitement about these arcane topics that was infectious.

    I suspect that the attitude that the median Latter-day Saint is deficient in intellect or curiosity correlates to a large extent with an assumption that the body of LDS doctrine is itself unworthy of academic investigation and admiration, so that the intellectual depth of the restored gospel, and the swimming abilities of the average member, are well correlated.

    By contrast, the more we can appreciate and understand the depth of the intellectual experience of the gospel, the scriptures and the Church, the more successful we can be in inviting our fellow Saints to dive in with us and find the oysters and the pearls they contain.

    And while we are doing that, they may teach us a thing or two about being reliable friends and neighbors, and surviving the emotional tsunamis of life in mortality.

  12. BHodges on April 6, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Thanks for this great post. I especially like some of the concrete suggestions it offers, as well as the thou shalt nots at the outset.

    Dane (#4), I echo your well-articulated point.

    Raymond, do you remember what Nibley essay that quote about regular language is in? C.S. Lewis said something pretty similar, I am interested to see if there is any relation. Here’s the same idea from one of Lewis’s letters:

    “Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can’t turn your faith into it, then either you don’t understand it or you don’t believe it” (The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Narnia, Cambridge and Joy 1950–1963, v. 3 p.1007).

  13. Adam Greenwood on April 6, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    What if we’re all stupid?

    Was it P.J. O’Rourke or Garrison Keillor who said that intelligence is like 4-wheel drive, it just means you get stranded in more remote places?

  14. John on April 6, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    I like this post. My only problem is that I’m just as bored with deep, intellectual conversations on gospel topics as I am with discussions of “the basics.” I know I’ve obviously got some sort of problem, but deeper intellectual engagement ain’t the solution.

  15. queuno on April 6, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    @14 – I’m right there with you.

  16. Chino Blanco on April 6, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    I tend to agree with #13: We’re all stupid.

    Just as compulsory primary education created a market catered for by cheap dailies and weeklies, so the spread of secondary and latterly tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.
    — Sir Peter Medawar

  17. Marc Bohn on April 6, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Adam Greenwood and Chino Blanco agree on something. Wow.

  18. Brad Dennis on April 7, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Wow! Great Post. I have thought about that question many times myself and have come to realize all too often that I have been guilty of the “what not to do” approaches. I found in the end that I was stupid for using those. You are right about the need to help inform others about useful sources and to learn how to deal with uninformed worldviews passionately, yet not exclusionistically.

  19. Dan Sinema on April 7, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    I try to remember that the Lord treats us in the same manner that we treat others. His knowledge and understanding far exceeds mine. If I want to learn from Him, by the Spirit, then I need act toward the “rank and file” in the manner that I desire the Lord to treat me.

  20. Chino Blanco on April 7, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Here’s my passionate response to this uninformed worldview:

    One Way Out: An Invitation to America

    Apparently, it’s time to? activate those Mormon cells, because it’s Romney or revolution, suckers. And, yeah, that vid was an Arizona Mormon production. In other words, I take it back. The Rank & File, at least those in Gilbert with video editing capability, Really are Stupid.

  21. James Olsen on April 7, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Just couldn’t handle agreeing with Adam for too long, eh?

    Despite the nauseating content, I’m letting your comment stand as a concrete example of a hybrid of the negative approaches above.

  22. John Hamilton on April 8, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    I’ve noticed that virtually no one I know in the church seems to be ignorant. Most that I’ve unfortunately judged to be uninformed turned out later to be quite aware and insightful in areas that I was not. Makes me wonder how I seemed to them.

    Everyone of us, in my opinion, is on a different road to “enlightenment.” While on my mission I was a bit of a rebel because I didn’t always faithfully follow the mission discussions (the new “Preach My Gospel” plan is excellent!) and would try to answer investigator’s questions, no matter how odd, as best I could using the gospel as I knew it. My companions would sometimes remind be “milk before the meat,” but often these discussions would open the door to more meaningful relationships where we could more easily challenge the investigator to explore the church further. One person’s “meat” may be another’s “milk” and vise versa in my estimation.

    This post is really great. Good practical advise and helps to put me back in the right frame of mind. Thanks!

  23. John Hamilton on April 8, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    One other little insight I noticed one day while sitting through what I thought was going to be another boring, unchallenging Sunday School lesson was that what really bothered me was only the pace. There were still insights to be gained even when hearing and reading the same old basic stuff, it just doesn’t come at you with the rapidity of a Hugh Nibley or something. Each teacher has something unique to add to my understanding if I’m paying close attention.

    That brings me to another point. I think it is the contact between two people or a group that’s really important in these learning situations and not so much the content. When I maintain constant eye-contact with the teacher and really pay attention and am engaged, no matter how benign the actual content, I’ve found that I’ve learned something more than what the teacher prepared. Hard to put my finger on what it is, but I leave the class a bit more enlightened somehow even though I couldn’t tell you anything new about the gospel.

  24. andrew on April 10, 2010 at 1:52 am

    I’ll be the downright negative nancy here.
    the general impression i’ve seen in the Church is a combination of #1 and #4; not necessarily by me (although i fall into it), but by correlation. We get fed these “Sunday school answers” and no one thinks to explore further. Not that they’re stupid, but no one wants to, and those who do are labeled as “losing their testimony”.

    I once brought up Mormon 9:33-35 (ish) where Moroni explains the errors in the Book of Mormon, and someone immediately pounced on it. they couldnt harbor the possibility that the BoM could be imperfect (Biblical infallibility anyone?). I’m not spouting off random and esoteric ideas once common 150 years ago, i’m simply quoting verses from the scriptures, and people dont want to hear it.

    i remember as a youth thinking that most adults had this rather deep understanding of the Gospel (and Missionaries were these very learned theologians). And then i turned 17 and really got into the scriptures myself. I began asking various teachers and adult mentors about verses i was reading, only to discover that no one had any idea what I was talking about. I began to realize that people only read the verses we always read, and no one bothers with anything else. People know the verses at the end of the chapter in the Gospel Principles book, or Preach My Gospel (and its great stuff), but little else. It was sobering to realize, at age 17, that i knew more about the Gospel than most other Latter-day Saints (there’s your hubris, neatly packaged too). You can call me on that, but people have been saying “i wish i knew the scriptures like you do” since then (and yet no one takes the next logical step to get into the scriptures).

    people like their milk, because meat is difficult to chew, nor is it always fun to deal with.

    as a quick example, this past month for home teaching i told the story of Obadiah in 1 Kings 18 (as relates to moral courage). no one at any of those visits knew who he was in the least. And yet his story is not some deep, hidden, meaty doctrine; its there plain as day. we just skip over it cause its not on the list of regularly read stories.

    Paul phrased it this way:
    17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
    18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
    i’ll leave it to you to find the book and chapter, and the reference extends a few verses before and after. hint: its not one of the verses we usually read.

  25. BevP on April 10, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    It has been my gratifying experience to find, when called to teach the sisters in my new ward, that although some of the sisters are not well educated by western cultural expectations, and some live materially very humble lives, many of these good sisters respond very positively to being asked to think in ways they’ve never thought before. And some of them read Nibley and other scholars with glee. We have had some really stimulating discussions. I always go away having thought something I haven’t thought before.

    But I’ve also found that an assumption I’ve made is not sound: that people in a nominally Christian country have at least some familiarity with Bible stories, even those more common than Obadiah. Some who have come into the Church in their mature years don’t bring with them a “basic Christian background” at all, without the mitigating factor of coming from a non-Christian background. It may not be as bizarre as I had thought upon the first such encounter, that quite ordinary and likeable people can in all seriousness ask what Christmas or Easter has to do with religion.

    Believing in the inherent divine nature of humans and our minds does not relieve us of finding out where our class members are before we try to stretch them. Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development notion is alive and well. As with the comment way above about Nibley and being able to teach a principle to anyone, we can if we understand the principle ourselves, and if we meet them in that Zone within which they can stretch with good coaching. It’s once again engaging with people as well as content.