Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Making Room

January 25, 2011 | 7 comments
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DoorstopWe like to shut doors. Jim’s book is a doorstop. Quick! Wedge it in.

Of Truman Madsen’s book, Eternal Man, Jim says:

More than teaching a particular doctrine or suggesting any particular solution to a philosophical or theological problem, the book gave its readers permission to think about these kinds of problems, to read the books listed in its many footnotes and books like them. . . . By writing Eternal Man, Truman Madsen said to me – and, I believe, many others – “Take seriously the admonition of the Prophet Joseph Smith that introduces chapter two: ‘When things that are of the greatest importance are passed over by weak-minded men without even a thought, I want to see truth in all its bearings and hug it to my bosom.’” Reading Eternal Man made me not want to be one of the “weak-minded.” The book gave me an intellectual goal and told me that my new goal was not only commensurable with my faith, but an expression of it. Reminding us that Joseph Smith described the gospel as requiring “careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts,” Madsen said, “A related kind of authority is needed in this realm. It is what, in the vernacular is called ‘room to talk.’” (21)

We need such room to talk. But what doors have you been shutting? What thoughts have you been avoiding? What things of greatest importance have you been passing over? Don’t be weak-minded.

Given today’s hypersensitivities of various kinds, such room to talk is as difficult to come by as it ever was. Some recognizing that current trends of thinking are not consonant with the gospel (as if they ever were), think that we should shut our eyes and ears to such things and that, especially, we should not speak of them to the young for fear of corrupting them. Others think that it is enough merely to repeat conventional wisdom about the gospel or, perhaps, even merely to repeat the truths of the gospel. For them, repetition without investigation is enough to answer all questions. A few others, convinced that this or that seemingly new-fangled notion is, at last, the answer to our problems and questions, would either ignore the gospel or twist it into a shape that fits better their newfound intellectual faith. But all of these kinds of problems respond to the difficulty of the intellect with one kind of dogmatism or another. They shut the door on any room to talk. (21)

Which current trends have you been shutting your eyes to? Which gospel truths have you been merely repeating? Which (seemingly) new-fangled notions have you been substituting? Almost certainly you’ve been doing all of the above.

In part, Jim’s book, Faith, Philosophy, Scripture, matters because it is a rare entry in that practically non-existent genre that Truman Madsen’s Eternal Man defined. Where are all the others?

Blogs and even essays are nice but they don’t have enough material weight, enough enduring heft to hold open a door. For doorstops, we need books and we need more of them. We need it in print and from people we can trust that we ought not to be weak-minded. We need it in print and from people we can trust that thought is compatible with our faith. And we need it in print and from people we can trust that despite some good efforts, we generally close more doors than we manage to keep open.

Every generation needs this and it needs this from someone who is alive.

We need to pick up the pace. Jim’s not as young as he used to be and one or two books per generation is not going to be enough.

Sit down. Start writing.

[FPS: A Typology of Readers, FPS: Memory]

7 Responses to Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Making Room

  1. Dave on January 25, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    I recall a comment a few years ago that the scientific paper is the publishing unit of science, but for philosophy it is still books. The point was that it takes a book-length treatment to fully develop a philosophical argument. I’m excited, having just picked up a copy of Jim’s new book (in the back corner of the BYU Bookstore, next to the chiasmus section). You are right that while we have had an avalanche of history and apologetics books the last generation or two, LDS philosophy (or, more modestly, LDS philosophizing) remains a largely neglected field.

  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on January 25, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Faith, Philosophy, Scripture — a list of the ISBN or the author’s full name?

  3. Adam Miller on January 25, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Stephen, you can found all of this information (and even a link to the BYU bookstore’s book page) in the previous posts in this series – especially the first on “a typology of readers.” See the links at the bottom of this post. Good hunting!

  4. James Olsen on January 26, 2011 at 10:32 am

    In part, Jim’s book, Faith, Philosophy, Scripture, matters because it is a rare entry in that practically non-existent genre that Truman Madsen’s Eternal Man defined. Where are all the others?

    Blogs and even essays are nice but they don’t have enough material weight, enough enduring heft to hold open a door. For doorstops, we need books and we need more of them. We need it in print and from people we can trust that we ought not to be weak-minded. We need it in print and from people we can trust that thought is compatible with our faith. And we need it in print and from people we can trust that despite some good efforts, we generally close more doors than we manage to keep open.

    Amen! And your post was a welcome call to repentance throughout.

    An old archaeologist told me while on my mission that he thought Eternal Man ought to be another standard work. I had to write home and request a copy from Benchmark Books since there were no in-print editions.

    An yes! we need books. One thing that will happen as we mature in our ability to faithfully think “careful, and ponderous and solemn thoughts” is gain the ability to read the best books, regardless of who has written them. In addition to producing great works of philosophy, we need to be a people capable of consuming them, including all those written outside our tradition. Otherwise we’ll never cultivate the authors and audiences we need. I’m convinced that we would already have our wagonloads of scripture if we were able to read the apocrypha (i.e., “all good books” [D&C 90:15]) with the discernment that our God demands.

  5. Clark on January 26, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    I have to admit I’ve never read Eternal Man nor any of Truman Madsen’s more philosophical works. Sounds like they were worth reading. (Interestingly he was my Stake President for a while but by the time I got my recommend renewed he’d been released)

  6. Robert C. on January 27, 2011 at 7:18 am

    Nice post, Adam—thanks.

    Dave’s comment (#1) is an important one. The trend of articles rather than books is also occurring in the social sciences. It is very common in many fields (economics and business disciplines, at least—but several others, I think) to not really count books toward tenure. That is, it’s not just a tilt of writing more articles and fewer books, perhaps because articles are easier; rather, it’s a systematic disparagement of books. This is not unrelated to the shifting reading (and viewing) habits in society more generally, IMHO.

    In science, it makes a certain amount of sense to move toward journals, since ideas have become increasingly reductive, specialized and empirical. This facilitates joint work among scientists. This kind of intellectual outsourcing is maximally productive. And it shifts the burden of proof to more formal hypothesis-testing and empirical analysis kinds of work, and away from more subjective forms of conceptualization and articulation. Having broadly-minded, thoughtful people is not as productive as teams of data-gathering and -testing researchers. Methinks this is a deep and prickly problem (and I should add that Jim’s essay itself addresses this problem nicely—how we think about reasoning a la logic and science relative to other, more subjective forms forms of reasoning…).

  7. BHodges on February 3, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    …it is a rare entry in that practically non-existent genre that Truman Madsen’s Eternal Man defined. Where are all the others?

    Agreed re: rarity. In a similar genre (more to Madsen’s EM than Faulconer’s FPS) I whole-heartedly recommend Dennis Rasmussen’s The Lord’s Question: A Call to Come Unto Him. It’s contemplative and searching.

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