On Friday night, I was heading up the Snake River Canyon toward Jackson Hole, with snow falling gently through the darkness. At the entrance to the canyon, the following message was brightly displayed on a portable electronic sign: “Slippery spots: Turn off cruise control.” I have never seen that particular message on a traffic sign before. Good advice, of course — you’ll live longer if you are thinking (cruise control off, brain on) while driving on slick roads.
Now it just so happened that on my long drive home I had been listening to a few Mormon Stories interviews, including Grant Palmer (in four parts) and Ted Lyons (in three parts). As is often the case in these interviews, the discussion eventually turned to what the LDS Church can do to prevent Mormons from losing their faith upon encountering difficult issues or events in LDS doctrine or history. Palmer suggests the Church should move its focus away from LDS scripture and focus instead on Jesus Christ as presented in the New Testament. Lyon thinks that the Seminary and (especially) the Institute curriculum should be upgraded to include discussion of difficult issues from a faithful perspective. There are certainly other possible approaches to consider should one share the view that the status quo is not sustainable.
These two unrelated ideas — cruise control and inoculation — collided and out sprang a metaphor: when you hit slippery doctrinal or historical spots, turn off your correlated cruise control and resume brain-on thinking. You’ll stay in the Church longer if you are thinking while negotiating tricky stretches of doctrine or history.
I won’t kill the metaphor by overexplaining. I think our curriculum, like cruise control, does simplify (oversimplify?) the work that needs to be done by students and teachers. The essence of cruise control is that you don’t slow down, and the LDS curriculum rarely lingers long on any topic or text. One corrective approach might be to slow down once or twice a year and devote a full lesson or even two to one single topic. It wouldn’t have to be a topic some people find troubling, but if you are going to tackle those troubling issues somewhere in the LDS program, that seems like the right place. Perhaps the lesson, like the canyon, could come with a warning: “Caution: Uncorrelated lesson ahead. Turn off mental cruise control and be prepared to think a little.”