Mormon Intellectuals: A Response to Jim Faulconer

February 25, 2012 | 39 comments
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I disagree with some important parts of Jim’s recent piece on intellectuals in the Church (please read what he said first). By the end, I hope it’s clear that it is (in part) for “Faulconerian” reasons that I disagree with him. To begin, I’m going to indulge in a bit of biographical narcissism in order to make a point about the nature of my disagreement.

The semester recently began, and as I do at the beginning of nearly every course, I told the students a story about Jim Faulconer, or rather about my undergraduate self in one of Jim’s classes. Philosophers believe deeply in the intrinsic and instrumental good of criticism, argument, candid evaluation – in the overall value of dialectic. As an outside observer recently put it, “philosophers honor each other by disagreeing with each other.” For new philosophy students, however, the transition can be a bit rough; and I was no exception. One of my formative educational experiences involved getting a paper back two weeks into my first course as a philosophy major. Jim had assigned us to respond to an essay by Paul Ricouer. I’d undergone a manic experience – despairingly trying to read what was initially an utterly opaque text, followed by the thrill of coming to grasp some of what it said, followed by the despair of trying to say something intelligent about it, followed by the thrill of thinking (after several revisions), that what I had to say was truly profound – even thinking that maybe I was a natural at this whole philosophy thing. Jim sent me back an electronic version of my paper that was completely covered with comments. I don’t exaggerate. The paper was a little shy of 5 double-spaced pages and, in addition to correcting my legion of typographical-ish errors Jim had appended 78 substantive comments. All in all, he had more to say about my paper than I had to say in my paper. I made it through perhaps a page of comments before desperately scrolling down to the bottom to see the large red “D” – my grade. Despite this initial nauseating experience, I very quickly learned what an amazing investment Jim was making in my education – something no other teacher had ever done. I’m still convinced that word for word, no professor of mine has ever spent as much time with my writing as Jim did on those undergraduate essays. And I’m not alone. One of my best friends, currently at Oxford, likewise attributes his academic success to classes with Jim Faulconer. I’m quite confident that thousands of former students would say the same.

At any rate, I hope it will be clear to everyone reading this that in disagreeing with Jim, I genuinely hope to honor him, constructively moving the discussion forward.

Getting to the specifics of Jim’s post, here’s what he has to say by way of summary at the end:

It is difficult to remember because we are human, but the responsibility of the Mormon intellectual is, first, not to allow our intellects to separate us from the other members of the Church and, second, to work at being intellectually useless and, thereby, good for the Church on its own terms. We should be good for nothing except what the Kingdom demands.

The first point is straightforward, really important, and as far as I’m concerned simply right. This has long been one of my mantras, and reading Jim now I suspect I picked it up from him.

It’s the second point I take issue with, but since it’s less straightforward it will take some getting into. Jim begins the piece in good Socratic fashion, a gadfly of wisdom, pointing out that education and intellectual acumen do not imply wisdom or moral goodness. While “Intellectuals are no more likely to ask ‘What effects will what I am doing have on others, on society as a whole?’ than anyone else” they nonetheless are “perhaps more likely to be arrogant about their relation to the rest of society than most.” But the simple reality is, “being an intellectual doesn’t make a person more morally insightful than others. Knowledge about the world does not imply virtue.”

Being a fan of Socrates myself, these points are hard to argue with. In a very different but similarly formative undergraduate classroom I once sat at a seminar table with a group of sycophants praising one another and the professor for being the nobly tragic intellectuals that they were – fighting the difficult and oh-so-important intellectual battles, persevering in “the know” and helping to make the Church safe for all of its naïve members. Revolting.

While we all – regardless of intellectual bent – need Jim’s reminder that we “are more like everyone else than [we] usually believe,” I believe Jim overextends the point. He begins with pointing out that “if I believe that the Church is, on the whole, led by revelation, then I must be doubly skeptical of my opinions” – skeptical because I’m human and just as subject to temporary fads and blindspots as anyone, and skeptical about the efficacy of pitting my own thoughts against revelation. Again, this sure seems like sound advice. The overextension comes in his drawing the conclusion that our intellectual endeavors are, therefore, “good for nothing.” He uses this provocative phrase to catch our attention, but his point is that our endeavors vis-à-vis the Church as intellectuals are useless in the technical sense of the term frequently employed by ancient Greek philosophers: intellectual endeavor in the Church may have personal or intrinsic value, but not instrumental value. It is not something to benefit the Church institution or its authorities, not something that can be appropriately used to further an agenda or used toward any (supra-personal) end.

This paragraph is illustrative:

What, then, ought Mormon intellectuals to do? The first answer is “What everyone else does.” Sit in the pews with your families and friends. When you find a speaker boring or inept, remember that others frequently find intellectuals boring and inept, and love the speaker through (rather than in spite of) the talk he gives. Clean the chapel, do your home teaching, set up chairs when needed.

Again, it’s hard to disagree with these sentiments – taken on their own. My disagreement comes with the rhetorical “period” he places on the advice he gives here. The error lies in the equivocation at play in that “period.” No one ought to deny that as Mormons Mormon intellectuals are like all other Mormons and ought to engage in all the mundane (and divine) activities of the laity. One can say the same of bishops, relief society presidents, and apostles. If we end the conversation here, however, we steamroll over the important contributions that we can all variously make, and indeed those contributions most of us have covenanted to make. Inasmuch as Jim is merely noting (as he explicitly does) that unlike other Churches, we have no specific institutional role for intellectuals, he’s on firm footing. But that surely doesn’t mean that intellectual endeavor is of no institutional or social value in the Church – which is exactly what his claims come to: “The place of the intellectual in the LDS Church is not to serve some purpose, to bring something about, or to change affairs any more than the place of any particular non-intellectual in the Church is to bring something about by means of their professions, personal passions, and interests.” But this comment strikes me as incredible. Jim and I and many of you have explicitly covenanted to utilize just those things – our professions, personal passions, interests, time, talents, efforts, etc. – to building up the Kingdom of God.[1]

As written, it looks like Jim is making a number of unjustified assumptions that contribute to the overextension of his point. First, in claiming that intellectuals’ contributions need to be “good for the Church on its own terms,” Jim seems to prioritize institution over individual – but that get’s the priority relationship exactly backwards. Our work is meant to be good for the Church on its own terms, but only because those terms are the exaltation of families – which is where the priority lies. Second, Jim seems to be removing agency from the equation insofar as “good” intellectual gifts are concerned – that which makes the gift good is a matter of institutional approbation; how one’s agency is involved is irrelevant. I think that’s simply wrong (more on this below). Third, Jim assumes that criticism of the Church equates to criticism of those in authority (which obviously would be problematic given our belief in those authorities as prophets, seers, and revelators). This is simply not true. No one who’s had administrative responsibilities in an organization of any size or complexity can maintain the naïve belief that everything done in that organization is a manifestation of the will of the leaders. Prophets in scripture perhaps universally criticize the Church over which they preside – the two aren’t synonymous.[2]

Finally, Jim begins his article acknowledging that intellectual’s fail society when they fail to lend their intellectual skills to the betterment of society – which importantly includes much needed criticism. Noting that the Church is not a democracy, however, Jim dismisses the notion that there is a similar obligation for intellectuals with regard to the Church. This is an oversimplification that covers over the issue and its attending stakes. Plausibly, the Church’s non-democratic institutional status means that the service potential of individuals – or the way in which it is appropriately rendered – is going to be different than it is in a democracy. That certainly doesn’t mean (at least not without a lot more argument) that there’s no role for it at all.

I agree that we can get a big head and start viewing our particular talent or passion as disproportionately important, that we are in “the know,” that our education or intellect gives us special moral insight or wisdom concerning needed reforms, or the like. This fact, however, is not in tension with the notion that our personal talents and skills can be of significant benefit, even without there being a specific institutional role that recognizes and utilizes these talents. This is just as true of intellectuals as it is of basket weavers. Steve Young does not have superior moral worth or capital on account of his athletic talent; there is no institutional position to be filled by prodigious Mormon athletes. But to claim that his profession and skill is therefore useless – that it has no potential instrumental value – is to dismiss the potential that he (and by extension all of us) has to invest his talents in building the Kingdom of God. Just as athletes can contribute – not exploitatively, but by the manner in which they conduct and “make use” of themselves – so too can intellectuals contribute, and in ways specific to intellectual endeavor.

The proper conclusion for individuals (intellectual or otherwise) seeking to be of use to the Church is humility, not inaction or burying of talents. Treating my gifts as useless for the Church is not a virtue, it’s a vice; it is an act of withholding what God has given us from those we might have helped if we were more actively and agentfully engaged.

Jim undermines his own argument concerning the “good for nothing” nature of intellectual endeavor when he endorses the efforts of the Mormon Theology Seminar and the resulting publications by the Salt Press. He speaks of these publications as mere “gifts” to the Church without any specific agenda. It seems to me that the relevant question does not concern agendas but whether the gift is a good one (and hence categorized by Moroni as one of those things we ought to seek after) or a bad one. Critically, it can’t be a good gift if it’s not to some degree mindful of itself and has at least some notion of itself as valuable. Imagine someone giving you an immensely helpful gift (as a gift) and when you try to sincerely thank them they merely shrug their shoulders with genuine indifference and claim that they see no value whatsoever in the gift they’ve given. You might appreciate what you were given nonetheless, but the nature of the “gift” at this point is very different. As D&C 58:27-28 reminds us, our agency, especially in the absence of specific institutional direction, is critical. Who we are and our individual talents matter in building the Kingdom, whether we’re serving as prophet or sacrament greeter.

I see Jim’s claims as an oppositional response to what we might call the Margaret Toscano doctrine of intellectual engagement. In a wonderful piece that uses our doctrine of Heavenly Mother to highlight the nature of power structures in the Church, Toscano sees within Mormonism both a “demand for official authorization” and a “theological need for rigorous philosophical analysis.”[3]  While the former demand is necessarily provided for by Church authorities, the latter need corresponds to the work of intellectuals. Granting a theological need for “rigorous philosophical analysis” probably entails a moral imperative for those capable of fulfilling that need (i.e., intellectuals). Satisfying such a need seems to be paradigmatically “useful.” Furthermore, if theology and norms reduce to power structures inhering in (mutable) organization, then there can certainly be no prohibition against intellectuals making use of whatever power the current structure grants them to vie for any changes they deem appropriate. Such power struggles are natural and inevitable rather than more or less appropriate.

To review and contrast, the relevant implications of Toscano’s position are as follows:

  • There is no inherent, moral difference between the contributions of Church authorities and scholars; rather, there are only those (mutable) distinctions currently demanded by the Church population or those that arise out of current (again, mutable) Church structure
  • Philosophical analysis of Church theology and practice is needed and cannot be provided (at least sufficiently) by Church authorities; scholars are instrumentally useful and needed
  • Scholars capable of analyzing, critiquing, and vying for reform have at least a right to do so, and perhaps a moral obligation

On the other hand, the relevant implications of Faulconer’s position are as follows:

  • There are both structural differences between scholars and Church authorities (i.e., the Church is not a democracy), and moral differences (scholars lack the divine sanction or revelatory stewardship of Church leaders)
  • Lacking both structural and moral authority, scholars ought to recognize that any contribution they can make is non-instrumental (i.e., “useless” or “good for nothing”) and subject to the desires and discretion of Church authorities
  • Consequently, scholars ought to humbly recognize their accorded position, unite with fellow members, and not concern themselves with whether their indifferently proffered “gifts” are accepted or ignored

Note: while I’ve tried to be fair and accurate, it may be that I’m misreading one or both of them, that I’m mistaken in my analysis of their position. Even if that turns out to be the case, I believe that explicitly laying out this Toscano-Faulconer spectrum is a very useful tool, one that helps us all to orient ourselves to the various possibilities that exist for intellectuals, and allows me to argue in favor of a third position.

I find both Toscano and Faulconer compelling but excessive. Mormon experience and theology both attest to the fact that one can appropriately or inappropriately utilize their gifts with regard to the Church. At the same time, need plus capacity does not always equal a good marriage. On the other hand, Mormon experience and theology likewise both attest to the use-ful nature of intellectual acumen to the Kingdom of God; and there are more and less appropriate ways of being anxiously engaged to bring about many things of our own free will – that is, outside the official sanction and calling of the Church.

Over dinner and other occasions of interaction when I was a missionary Stanley Kimball taught me in word and deed about what he called mind service. I’ll never forget him saying,[4] “We all quote the various scriptures commanding us to love and serve God with all our heart, might, mind and strength, and we’re all fairly conversant with what it means to love and serve God with our heart, might and strength. But we rarely mention, let alone elaborate on what it might mean to love and serve God with our minds. Well, I’ve tried to devote my energies to mind service.” We’re commanded to seek after all truth, and specifically given the injunction to obtain “secular knowledge.” This is both individually and collectively true (much like our command to take seriously the Book of Mormon). Mind service is needed if we are to obtain this end.

The critical qualifier to genuine mind service is, of course, that it must be performed as an act of love. Loving God through intellectual service is the appropriate resolution of the Toscano-Faulconer conflict. This is includes the intellectual principle of charity with regard to how we take up the church’s history, practice, and doctrine in constructive intellectual engagement, but goes well beyond it. Genuine, selfless love of God and all humanity ought to be our chief and overwhelming motivation.

Working out the specifics of what mind service entails requires a lot more than what I’m contributing here. Nevertheless, simply identifying it as an alternative to the positions outlined above is, I think, an important corrective to the overreach of Jim’s position. In brief, I believe that loving mind service includes at least the following:

  • A recognition of the structural and moral differences between intellectuals and Church authorities, and the appropriate humility vis-à-vis one’s service that this recognition calls for
  • An agentful election to devote intellectual service, to be use-ful to the Kingdom of God – (again) humbly recognizing that those involved in such service are not the arbiter of what is and is not ultimately useful (i.e., performing your service in love). This of course includes an unflinching willingness to offer constructive criticism or candid evaluation, particularly when such evaluations are made on the basis of one’s specific field of expertise
  • A recognition of the eternal virtue of intellectual proficiency and a commitment to promoting and improving the Church’s (individual and collective) intellectual caliber according to the skill and opportunities one is afforded

Ironically, Jim more than anyone else I know has devoted his life to mind service in the Kingdom of God. Beyond electing and magnifying a career as an educator at BYU and contributing a constant stream of intellectually edifying and enriching materials to the Church membership at large, Jim has initiated and supported numerous organizations devoted to the intellectual pursuits and contributions of the LDS community – including Times & Seasons!

While I feel very much like I’m just getting started, I know I’ve already long since transgressed bloggernacle norms and attention spans. I’ll conclude with a slightly modified version of Jim’s conclusion quoted above:

It is difficult to remember because we are human, but the responsibility of the Mormon intellectual is, first, not to allow our intellects to separate us from the other members of the Church and, second, to work at being intellectually use-ful and, thereby, good for the Church on its own terms. If we are to love God with all of our minds, we should be good for nothing except for that which the Kingdom demands—our very best intellectual contributions.



[1] I hope that the inclusion of “professions” on that list is allowed its obvious meaning and that the discussion isn’t derailed by arguments concerning the ways in which one can inappropriately exploit their professions in order to “promote” Mormonism.

[2] Obviously, this doesn’t grant us all the same critiquing privileges of prophets.

[3] Pg 21. Toscano paints a Foucaultian picture wherein Mormon theology is constrained largely by the social norms arising out of the power structures inherent in how we organize ourselves as a Church. Much of what we believe and how we practice arises naturally out of the “authority structures [that] predetermine who and what gets included in Mormon theological discourse (15).” Overall, I find it an important and provocative essay – one we ought to be reading and discussing.

[4] Obviously this isn’t an exact quote – but it is exactly how I remember him saying it.

39 Responses to Mormon Intellectuals: A Response to Jim Faulconer

  1. Dave on February 25, 2012 at 8:20 am

    To start, let’s take Jim’s comment that there really isn’t any sanctioned institutional role or location for Mormon intellectuals. First, I don’t see why BYU doesn’t, to some degree, fill that role. Once upon a time church magazines provided such a location — go look at Ensigns from the 1970s, for example — but the Ensign has now been correlated into irrelevancy. Bureaucrats are so jealous of the apparent threat that anyone with any qualification or credential other than General Authority seems to pose to the leadership of the Church that no qualifications or credentials are listed for Ensign authors, just their home ward and stake. For example, you would think a degree in finance or experience in financial planning would give credibility to an article on personal finance, but no. The Ensign as presently published seems to reject the idea that qualifications give any sort of legitimacy to an author’s statements. This seems related to the problem of the role of Mormon intellectuals.

    This unwillingness to acknowledge that secular expertise of various kinds has something to offer the Church is unfortunate. It causes problems that could be avoided. There really ought to be more of a role for Mormon intellectuals.

  2. Sarah Familia on February 25, 2012 at 11:58 am

    I totally relate to the initial shock of taking a class from Dr. Faulconer. I first encountered him as a professor in a late summer honors class that lasted all day long, every day for my very first week of college. I was so overawed by him that I actually cried in class (not to mention upon seeing the red ink spilled all over my papers). However, his classes were some of the most intellectually stimulating I took. And he was definitely one of the most caring, invested professors I ever had.

  3. Jonathan Green on February 25, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Thanks for reviewing Jim’s article, which I read a few weeks ago. I think I agree with Jim.

  4. Mark D. on February 25, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    It seems to me the idea that the very least of individuals cannot be inspired to know and understand the mysteries of God by whatever means is foreign to the Mormon tradition, to say the least. See D&C 76:5-10, for example. What is also the case, however, is that ordinary individuals are not empowered to receive revelation for the church.

    I do not believe these two ideas need conflict with each other. The important distinction is authority. The leaders of the church have the authority to receive revelation for the church. Anything that anyone else says is simply to be taken as apocrypha, in the D&C 91 sense of the term.

    The authorities in the church do not grow up in an intellectual vacuum. If they, in inspired consensus, feel and understand that some proposition explicated by non-authoritative sources is inspired to some degree or another, perhaps that will affect the way they understand things. Revelation certainly seems more likely to be comprehended by those who have studied the issues out in their minds. And does this “studying” need to be done in an intellectual vacuum, by someone who has never read an extra-canonical work about anything?

    If that was the ideal, certainly anyone who might someday be called as a general authority should strictly avoid reading any publication outside of scriptures and general conference addresses. That way they would not be subject to pollution by the ideas of others, the philosophies of men, and such like.

    So it seems to me that a certain balance is required. Individuals (and more especially future leaders of the church) need to be humble, in touch with the Spirit, and apply a high degree of discernment to anything that they read to see whether it might be in accord with the spirit of truth, or not. And those that produce works that have any applicability to any question of spiritual importance, should do the same thing. That is my opinion.

  5. MDKing on February 25, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    James, I think you handled this critique very tactfully. You also raise some good points. I’m not sure, though, that your alternative is clear enough to be attractive.

    Perhaps you can clarify “useful”. As you describe it, I’m not clear on precisely how it’s different from Jim’s “uselessness.” I’ve followed the discussion with Adam Miller on this point in his earlier posts on theology, and my sense is that Jim is working in the same line of thought. Theology, or the work of the intellectual, is useless in the sense that one does not _expect_ it to be adopted. It’s a kind of gift with no strings attached, which, in their view, makes it a truly charitable gift.

    Now, I think you’re right to question whether or not its possible to give a gift out of love and not care whether or not its used, but I still think you haven’t quite articulated a significant difference between your view of usefulness and Jim’s view of uselessness (although I could be misunderstanding both of you).

  6. Blake on February 25, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Here is my problem. When Jim says that theology is “good for nothing,” what he really means is that it is so valuable that it is intrinsically good and doesn’t need to be good for anything else to be worthwhile. Where I disagree with Jim and Adam (at least I think we disagree) is that I believe that it is possible that theology and simple careful study, thought and expression could be (and I believe are) both intrinsically valuable and also good for something else. For instance, the fact that knowing about history is good in itself doesn’t mean that it isn’t also good to guide future decisions so that we don’t just repeat the same mistakes. It also has a pragmatic usefulness.

    Jim’s essential argument, if I have understood him, is that the Church is not a democracy. It isn’t about my ability to persuade others to my view like a political party. Thus, I don’t have an obligation to question the power-structures of the Church in the way that I have a responsibility to question the power structure of governments in a democratic society. Rather, my obligation is to be skeptical about any disagreement with the Church authorities because it is led by revelation and I am likely to be out of touch with divine will and knowledge if I question anything based on such revelation. I should be “doubly skeptical” of my own views because I am likely to be vaunted in pride as an intellectual.

    Here is the core of Jim’s injunction: “The place of the intellectual in the LDS Church is not to serve some purpose, to bring something about, or to change affairs any more than the place of any particular non-intellectual in the Church is to bring something about by means of their professions, personal passions, and interests. Whatever her other callings and good works in the Church, as an intellectual the intellectual is to be one who does not bring something about, who does not change affairs on purpose, who has no purpose, who simply is an intellectual beside, to the side of, what she does for the Church.”

    However, it seems that the implication of Jim’s stance is that “intellectuals” ought to never disagree with Church authorities. Yet that is a conclusion that does not follow. That I don’t have a duty to question does not entail that I have violated some duty if I do question. Nor does it follow from the fact that philosophy and theology and so forth are intrinsically valuable that they aren’t also good for something else.

    Let’s take a concrete application. It seems to follow, for instance, that I should never use development of theology to publicly question Elder Nelson’s views that God’s love is never unconditional. If I question this (and I have) have I violated some duty that I owe as a Latter-day Saint? Well, was his view based on revelation just because he said it? That is the weak spot of the argument for me. It assumes that the Church’s views and positions are always based on revelation. However, that belief adopts such a broad view of revelation that it becomes meaningless — whatever a church authority says is revelation on such a view.

    I agree that we should and must avoid pride and the kind of arrogance that seem to be the primary challenges of intellectuals. I agree that we give deference to revelation. Where I disagree is the implicit assumption that everything deriving from the Church is based on revelation.

    On the other hand, I think that the most any non-apostle can (and ought to) hope for in the Church is to give the fruits of one’s careful thoughts and labors as a sheer gift and allows others to freely choose whether to accept the gift. If the gift is rejected, that is the prerogative of the individual offered the gift. What that entails, it seems to me, is that we cannot make demands on the Church or its members to fit our Procustean bed. At most our views can be offered to persuade and inspire, and never to demand conformance to our demands for change. In that sense, I agree with Jim.

    Toscano’s stance, on the other hand, seems to reject the recognition of authority of being called of God and also of reality of revelation. The careful and rigorous exposition of theology is not something that should be comparable to revelation. It is the fruit of revelation that opens up the possibilities of theology. A good metaphor is the one suggested by Joe in his post on my 4th chapter — revelation is the root of the branches of theology that grow from it. Several different branches can be legitimate growths from the roots; but the branches should never attempt to supplant the roots or do what they do.

  7. Chris H. on February 25, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    To be honest, Jim’s essay was very depressing for me. This post and Blake’s response have me doing better.

  8. Jared on February 25, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    As latter day saints of all stripes, after all is said and done on this subject, and every other subject we care to caress with our intellectual talents; there remains the bottom line questions: are we experiencing the fruits of the Spirit on a regular basis, does the Lord hear and answer our prayers, do we see his hand guiding our walk–in other words, are we the recipients of his tender mercies? If yes, then we’re doing something right, if not, what’s up?

  9. NG on February 25, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    “But this comment strikes me as incredible. Jim and I and many of you have explicitly covenanted to utilize just those things – our professions, personal passions, interests, time, talents, efforts, etc. – to building up the Kingdom of God.”

    Excellent. Thank you.

    Also, it seems to me that these days many people are just as proud of their ignorance as intellectuals are of their learning. A graduate degree is hardly a prerequisite for spiritual hard-heartedness or hubris.

  10. Jeff G on February 26, 2012 at 12:22 am

    I will have to re-read the thread a little more carefully later on, but I think the following point will go through:

    The tools of analysis, criticism, etc. are certainly good within the contexts of academia and law. However, I see no reason whatsoever to assume that these tools are good in any other context and can therefore be counted as “talents” which ought not be hidden.

  11. Jim F on February 26, 2012 at 12:31 am

    I am unable to follow up the comments and further discussion that James’s piece may create, but I think his effort to respond to what I said deserves my attention. So, here it is:

    I cannot tell you how touched and flattered I am by your piece, both by the kind things you say in the beginning and by the very fact that you’ve thought something I wrote worthy of such a careful, thoughtful response.
     
    My response to your essay is that I disagree with almost nothing. I think there is perhaps a minor difference between us, but most of the difference is occasioned by the difference between a column of restricted length that, therefore, requires a rhetorical stance as much as a philosophical one. I deliberately took a rhetorical stance that I knew would be bothersome because I wanted to raise an issue that I had been thinking about a bit in response to some of what had been going on in the bloggernacle and other media.
     
    Our difference comes in how you and I understand what I was up to. You say that I undermine my argument by endorsing the Mormon Theology Seminar for offering only gifts without an agenda because the relevant question is not the agenda but whether the gifts are good. I agree with you that, as an intellectual my question should be whether what I do is good. I would say that is the central question for an intellectual. But my column was about agendas. With regard to the Church, I ought not to have an agenda. That’s what I meant by saying that intellectuals should be useless.
     
    As I said in the column, a good is good because it has no need to be explained by a further good. That defines uselessness, being good for nothing further. But there is an equivocation that I played on without pointing it out. Something can be good for nothing further in every sense, or it can be good for nothing further in itself, even if useful for other purposes. That something is good for nothing further in itself doesn’t mean that there can be no further use of it. For example, a painting by a Renaissance master is good in itself. But it can also be useful for illustrations, book covers, etc. But the thing in question isn’t good because of its further usefulness, even if it has that usefulness. The question of the further good is a question about agendas, the question I was addressing.
     
    The Steve Young example is useful: My point would be that he did not determine the instrumental value of what he did for the Church. He played football as well as he could and did whatever that demanded. As I understand it (and I may well be wrong) he followed his conscious and publicly did not support the Church’s work for Proposition 8 in California. In each case, he did what he needed to do as best he could, but he didn’t do what he did in order to bring about some effect, in order to make himself useful, as either a missionary for the Church (in the first case) or as a critic of the Church (in the second). That’s quite different, in my eyes from performers and athletes and intellectuals who are at great pains to benefit or correct the Church, at great pains to see to it that what they do brings about some effect in the Church. They are not satisfied to do their work well and to leave the question of further usefulness to circumstance and history.

    I used the Mormon Theology Seminars as my example precisely to undermine the interpretation of my essay that you offer. I hoped, probably unsuccessfully, that using that example would show that I was talking about agendas.
     
    Of course, I may not have made myself as clear as I ought to have, even given the limitations I was working with. I’ve often said to students that they didn’t say what they meant to say. That may well describe what happened with my column. There may also remain ways in which you still disagree with my view. If so, then as you say in your piece, I’m honored by that disagreement.

  12. ji on February 26, 2012 at 12:35 am

    The original posting summarizes Faulconer thusly:

    “Consequently, scholars ought to humbly recognize their accorded position, unite with fellow members, and not concern themselves with whether their indifferently proffered ‘gifts’ are accepted or ignored.”

    I think this applies to every member of the Church, with whatever gift he or she has.

  13. Blake on February 26, 2012 at 1:58 am

    I have to admit that it is still taking me some time to get used to blog posts by Superman’s friend. But it was a super post.

  14. TLP on February 26, 2012 at 1:58 am

    How strange to find myself disagreeing with Jim’s interpretation of his own essay. I think his kind response to James’s comments puts too much emphasis on the relatively narrow concern about intellectuals’ personal agendas. That was, no doubt, what prompted him to write the essay, and that fact helps clarify the essay’s context from Jim’s point of view. But by treating the subject of agendas so obliquely, Jim’s essay managed to make a larger point that should not be lost in a rush to close the gap between Jim and James.

    James does not accept the radicalism of Jim’s claim that intellectuals in the church should see their work as “useless.” James says that he finds Jim’s position “excessive.” I think Jim’s position is extreme but not excessive, and the power of Jim’s essay is largely lost if James can help us stop feeling uncomfortable about it.

    Jim writes in a key passage of his essay: “[W]e [intellectuals] should do what everyone else does: stop thinking that we are special; be ordinary and learn to love ordinary life. Learn to love the order of the ordinary and the divine influence that can manifest itself between the lines of that order, expecting neither that intellectuals will create the meaningfulness of the ordinary nor that they will significantly interrupt the course of the ordinary. God, not the intellectual, gives meaning to and disrupts the meaning of the ordinary. And he uses frail mortals to do so, sometimes intellectuals, more often not.”

    Note that according to Jim, God “uses” us. So in some sense, the contributions of intellectuals are not always useless. Jim is not arguing that intellectual work should have no instrumental value. Rather, he is arguing that in the church it is always only God who determines what is valuable and in what ways it is valuable.

    The fact that only God decides what is valuable does not mean that our only alternative is to throw up our hands and stop making our own judgments about what to do. James wildly misunderstands when he suggests that Jim would have us give our gifts “indifferently.” To recognize the uselessness of one’s intellectual work is not to be indifferent. It is, rather, an expression of love. We give freely, with no expectation of reward or recognition. We hope that God uses our work as he will, but if he doesn’t use it at all that’s okay too. We rest together in his love, knowing that what we gave was good because it was the best we had to offer.

  15. Jack on February 26, 2012 at 2:32 am

    I’m having a hard time righting the idea of doing good for goodness’ sake with putting the Kingdom first. It seems like putting the Kingdom first would cause us to narrow the goods we do to those that are most instrumental in the Kingdom thus making those particular goods good-er. And in so doing we are actively seeking to do those goods that would seem most useful.

  16. James Olsen on February 26, 2012 at 2:36 am

    Thank you for the substantive participation. It’s nice to wake up and read all of the thoughtful responses.

    Dave: I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “that role,” but BYU is still not a domain wherein professors or others are invited to officially analyze, debate, and contribute intellectually to the work of the church. Nonetheless, I do think it’s sometimes operated as a de facto one. BYU Studies seems to have replaced the more rigorous Ensign of yesteryear.

    Sarah: See, you’re one of those thousands I was speaking of!

    Jonathan: Given Jim’s #11, I’ll take that as your agreement with me :)

    Mark D: I’m in agreement that all of us, regardless of our position in the church, have the same intellectual obligations to seek after the spirit and further light & truth in all we study (as well as an obligation to study).

    MDKing: You seem to have hit on the crux of the matter. I do think that Jim’s ‘uselessness’ and my ‘usefulness’ are different, though you’re probably right that I’ve failed to articulate how that is so that here. Blake perhaps gets at the difference better than I did. At any rate, I’ll have more to say on the subject later.

    Blake: Thank you for the substantive reply. A few thoughts. I’m convinced that not only can things be intrinsically (as you put it, really) valuable – and in this sense be Jim’s sort of useless – but at the same time also be useful. Jim (below) doesn’t disagree. I’m also convinced that we can recognize, in advance, and even be motivated by a thing’s usefulness. I’m even ok with the “useful motivation” to be a necessary one in our performance (e.g., I’d be fine if Walker, Turley, and Leonard saw the intrinsic value of their MMM book, but still would not have written it had they not also seen the instrumental value in shifting the church’s general knowledge of and attitude toward that tragedy, or other similar benefits).

    We seem to be on the same page concerning the non-democratic structure of the church and the place of candid criticism.

    Chris H: it’s all placebo – just like prozac.

    Jared: this might be a profitable maxim for “when all is said and done.” It’s the particular, in-the-doing that we’ve nonetheless got to make specific decisions; and I’m enough of a particularist to think that your general maxim is often going to be fairly useless – intrinsically valuable, perhaps, but good for nothing.

    NG: Agreed. As D&C and Pres. Benson have both made clear – pride afflicts the poor & ignorant as well as the rich and educated.

    Jeff G: I’m skeptical as to whether you’ve got a clean way of shaving off your intellectual capacities in a church setting. Surely you don’t want to check your intellect at the door, no matter what you’re doing in church. There might be acceptable ways of utilizing those gifts within academia that don’t work so well in certain church contexts (e.g., direct and candid confrontation might be less effective in SS). Perhaps you and I simply disagree.

    Jim F: Thank you for the response. I’ll be giving your comments their own spotlight shortly.

    ji: It’s whether or not we need to be indifferent in our proffering of the gifts that I disagree. But as Jim’s comments make clear, I probably misread him there.

  17. James Olsen on February 26, 2012 at 2:53 am

    Blake: My Mom struggled with the decision to allow my dad to give me that name – consequently, she insisted my nickname be Jamie. Fortunately, my generation usually doesn’t make the connection (i.e., you’re dating yourself).

    TLP: As Jim says, “I’ve often said to students that they didn’t say what they meant to say.” Maybe you’re right. As noted above, I certainly agree with the “key passage” you cite; I just disagree with the rhetorical “period” placed at the end, that this is all there is to be said. You’re a bit inconsistent, however, in stating that there’s a key difference between Jim’s & my position, and then claiming that I misread Jim by imposing “indifference” on his view of intellectual gift giving. Your interpretation (of non-indifferent gift giving) reads a great deal like mine. So if you’re right, you’ve helped to collapse the difference between Jim & me, right after encouraging Jim not to do so.

  18. Jeff G on February 26, 2012 at 5:06 am

    James,

    I think what I object to most is the idea that the tools of liberal science are, by default, “gifts” at all or that such tools can be equated with the “intellect”. Just like we don’t expect a lumberjack to bring his chainsaw to church, we shouldnt expect the scholar to bring her zeal for skepticism, logical consistency, hair-splitting analyses and criticism there either. These are the tools of academia, and they work very well there. But we shouldn’t assume that they ought to be used universally, or that there aren’t other mental tools which are especially suited for church-going and similarly do not work very well at the university.

    In other words, what I object to is the notion that the entire world, religion and all, must in some sense lend itself to the tools of liberal science. It seems to me that something like this assumption must be at play when intellectuals defend their territory within the church.

  19. Robert C. on February 26, 2012 at 7:55 am

    What I like about Jim’s essay is precisely the manner in which it has provoked me to think so deeply about the term “useful.” In modern culture, desiring to be useful slips far too easily — and usually imperceptibly — into idolatrous desire, with our own agenda etc.

    I found myself at first having a somewhat negative reaction to Jim’s essay, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt I am simply too attached to a desire to be useful.

    God may use me. Or he may not. I should not be offended if he does not. Of course I desire to be useful to him, I don’t think that’s a bad desire. I need to be diligently engaged in developing my talents, being a city on a hill when I can, etc. But it is too easy, and too common, to be overzealous in this desire to be useful (esp. in our capitalist culture which is obsessed with productivity and efficiency…). So, I must constantly ask myself whether I “do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me” (Alma 29:3)….

    TLP #14, for the reasons I’ve just expressed, I think the two points you made are spot on:

    [T]he power of Jim’s essay is largely lost if James can help us stop feeling uncomfortable about it. . . .

    Note that according to Jim, God “uses” us. So in some sense, the contributions of intellectuals are not always useless. Jim is not arguing that intellectual work should have no instrumental value. Rather, he is arguing that in the church it is always only God who determines what is valuable and in what ways it is valuable.

  20. Michael on February 26, 2012 at 10:07 am

    #11-Jim F “With regard to the Church, I ought not to have an agenda.”

    This is where I continue to get confused. As a convert of 30 years, I joined the Church for one reason only. I am in search of Eternal Truth in all its forms, varieties, manifestations and sources. I most definitely have an agenda when it comes to the Church,namely, to assist me in that search. If it is not fulfilling that role (either through communal or individual revelation OR through reasoned thought and theological pursuit) then it is failing. The General Authorities are charged with bringing such light and knowledge to the world but there is nothing in the scriptures which would support the proposition that they are the only ones involved in the process. The search for Eternal Truth is a personal responsibility that cannot be shirked or ignored without significant consequences to one’s soul.

    The search relies wholly upon questioning. The missionaries asked me to question every thought from my life experience, every teaching from my parents, every tradition of my upbringing when they challenged me in the discussions. I accepted that challenge and progressed mightily down the path to a more full understanding of Eternal Truth.

    Now that I am a member of the Church I am told that I am no longer allowed to use that same process of discovery to continue on my search but should accept that the Brethren are the only ones to decide the questions to be asked?

    The PoF states gender is eternal. Where the heck did that conclusion come from? The scriptures? A revelation which was not shared with church membership? Reasoned thought from a committee of Seventies? Conjecture based upon the King Follett discourse?

    Truth is not to be handed down by one set of individuals in a pre-packaged form with a nice outer wrapping. It is to be pulled and forced out by means of the human intellect and expanded upon and confirmed in glorious abundance by the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

    Always, always question everything but never doubt the Eternal Nature of Our Lord and Saviour and his willingness to lead us to Truth.

  21. Chris H. on February 26, 2012 at 10:30 am

    “Chris H: it’s all placebo – just like prozac.”

    Hehe, since I and already on prozac, this is a double shot.

  22. Adam Miller on February 26, 2012 at 11:18 am

    James, this is a nice piece. Like Jim, I don’t think there’s much to disagree with here. But I’m struck by how thoroughly pragmatic and, well, American the position is.

    There doesn’t seem to be any room here – like, in fact, in most Mormon discourse – for the lilies of the field. I think we’ve got to take the lilies of the fields seriously.

    Can you make room for the uselessness of the lilies without automatically re-economizing them as being useful for something? This, I think, is what Jim is after.

    As Shunryu Suzuki says, “All of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement.” Can we make room for the first part without sacrificing it to the second?

    Jim seemed to me to be saying both parts without wanting to sacrifice either to the other.

    Everyone seems to want to object to the first part (“you are perfect just as your are”) of what Jim said, but I think the second part (“and you could use a little improvement”) is only possible as a non-sinful practice in light of our unconditional commitment to the first.

    We can’t compromise on the first. We can’t compromise on the lilies.

  23. Jeremiah on February 26, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Jim’s original essay and this response come in a timely way for me. Over the past four or five years, I have become more and more an intellectual. I recently earned my PhD, and I am in my second year working in academia. All the while, I have become more and more uncomfortable with my place in the kingdom.

    While I was in my doctoral program, I had the blessing of working with a great CES man. He was a bit unorthodox as a CES employee. After several chats with him about how much I was coming to dislike going to church, he pointed out to me that my allegiance to critical theory in my profession was interfering with my spiritual progress. He liked to talk about the “spiritual epistemology” we learn to cultivate in the Church, explicitly pointing out to his students how modern scientific and philosophical epistemologies differ from the spiritual. I mention this because I have been engaged in a relentless internal dialectic about a number of “issues” with the Church. I have, for the most part, kept this dialectic to myself, but it makes me wonder about this question: Is there a place for dialectic as a “loyal opposition” in the Church? If not, what is the use of engaging in it as an intellectual?

    I appreciate Jim’s first point: that we as intellectuals must not allow our intellects to separate us from other members. I currently live in a ward populated mostly by simple people of limited intellectual means. I have no friends and no spouse in a city over a thousand miles from my dear friends and family. As a result, I have agonized over how I can get my needs met, hoping the Church can be a part of that—but in the process, I have placed it on a Procrustean bed, and I am sharpening my knife. I am beginning to collide with Jacob’s counsel in 2 Ne 9, and finding that I am in deep need of repentance.

    In spite of my struggle with pride, I want to believe that my intellect can be useful to the Kingdom. Intellectuals are part of the Pauline “body of Christ”, and it is difficult for me to believe that the Lord does not intend us to use our intellects to “do many things of our own free will” to bring to pass righteousness (D&C 58)—with the caveat that we must follow the counsel in 2 Ne 9. This is a difficult road to tread, and simply burying our intellects on Sundays is the easy way out. I wonder if the Lord expects us as intellectuals to engage in the dialectic between these two points, and to come to a synthesis.

  24. James Olsen on February 26, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    I can honestly say that I didn’t expect so many thoughtful responses; thank you everyone for participation that challenges me. I’ll try and respond again soon…

  25. Ralph on February 26, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    I am glad to see Jim’s essay is getting the thoughtful attention it deserves here. As I have argued at greater length elsewhere (http://www.johnadamscenter.com/2012/02/the-bulwarks-february-blog-review/#comments), I warmly embrace Jim’s point that we should not imagine our intellectual attainments qualify us to give direction to the Church. But beyond that I think his way of framing the question risks asking to little of LDS “intellectuals,” educators, etc. Dave (above) has a point, it seems to me, that BYU Profs, for example, cannot avoid a certain responsibility for exhibiting the compatibility between the most rigorous thinking and loyalty to revealed truths. I am reminded of Glaucon’s entreaties to Socrates in Plato’s Republic Book II. In effect: you, Socrates, are as smart as they get, and if you can’t refute Thrasymachus’s relativism, then who can? Like it or not, people with some claim to intellectual attainment cannot avoid the challenge of a contemporary Sophistry that associates “freedom” and “progress” with a fundamentally relativist outlook. Like it or not, if we are not part of the solution, we are, by default, part of the problem.

  26. TLP on February 26, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    In #23, Jeremiah struggles with the paradox that gives Jim’s essay its bite. Intellectual work, by its nature, requires us to challenge each other, even to attack. It is only by a rigorous give-and-take that we recognize error and find wisdom. But, according to Jim, if we do not recognize that our intellectual work is useless we are not fully adequate in our contribution to the church. The paradox is: we must be completely self-effacing in doing work that requires us to be assertive.

    I think the discussion here has established that there is a sense in which intellectual work, like all work, has some instrumental value. But I remain troubled by James’s comments because the effect of his arguments is to soften the disruptive psychological impact of Jim’s claim. It seems important to James to preserve the belief that his work – our work – is actually useful. In terms of our standing toward God and our fellow saints, it does not matter that there is a logical sense in which our work is useful. What really matters is that we make a true gift of what we have, and the only way to do this is to give without any strings attached.

  27. TLP on February 26, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    On the difficulty of coping with one’s uselessness: In #25, Ralph uses Jim’s argument against agendas to advance his own agenda.

  28. Robert C. on February 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    (It seems James has written a new follow-up post, but the link isn’t working — at least it’s not working for me….)

  29. Sam Brunson on February 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Okay, after a small technical glitch, James’s new post is live.

  30. britt k on February 26, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    I’m hardly an intellectual. I am an athlete. As such I’ve, at times, been given athletic callings. I hate them. lovingly. I can’t exactly restrict their nutrition, drastically increase the hours per day of practice, require outside effort, carefully substitute during games or in any other way actaully coach, or bring in a sponsor for real gear…or atleast a reasonable volleyball net for the love of karch. I have to tuck much of that in a large cubby… with all of my competitive spirit. The point of athletics in the world is to win and to excel physically. That isn’t remotely the point of athletics in the church. It’s love. which really is a bit different I like the inner game of tennis, so I’m not out to hate my opponent. I actually want them to play their best so I can be pushed…but that isn’t the role of “church ball” either.

    It would seem that as an intellectual there is a similar dicotomy. I have seen intellectuals teach sunday school, for example, and tuck all of their greek and hebrew and knowledge of ancient manuscripts into a cubby because the present class doesn’t need that? Or perhaps and intellectual might know the real story behind one of those historical bite sized object lessons commonly shared…yet the whole story shared in some circumstances might be offensive, and in other situations it’d be enlightening. Is inspiring each other necessarily different than challenging each other?

    I know musicians sometimes cringe at the ward choir calling for similar reasons. Of course there is also primary song and dance person.

    It can feel stifling..like our particular gifts are somehow not needed in the church even if they have great potential for bringing in the spirit or greater understanding (this is possibly more true of the musician and intellectual than the athlete-possibly). Perhaps God doesn’t need that particular gift at that particular moment…but instead needs the determination, hard work and dedication that we have developed to hone that gift. I consider it a challenge to really love, and put clearly what I value most.

    I’ve wondered if BCC and T&S are like the little friday night volleyball group we have. Anyone is welcome, as long as you don’t mind getting hit in the face at times. A place in which loving means actually fully using your talent and to do otherwise would be an insult.

  31. Lucy on February 27, 2012 at 1:02 am

    What is an “intellectual”?

  32. Thomas Parkin on February 27, 2012 at 5:31 am

    Britt,

    What you’ve said reminds me of a favorite quote from Karen Blixen: ‘one cry goes out from the heart of artists everywhere – give me leave to do my utmost.’ It would be wonderful to have a calling in which one could actually expend fully one’s talents and abilities without constraint.

  33. James Olsen on February 27, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Jeff G: There’s a line of argument similar to what you’re making that I’m sympathetic to; namely, that there are phenomena of human experience that the “typical” tools of analysis either cover over or at least get at in a clumsy way. For example, there’s a genuine tension between trying to be a spectator where one observes-in-order-to-analyse and being a participant, which (e.g.,) ritual worship demands. That being said, I’m quite firmly set against various programs of compartmentalization, and for multiple reasons. It’s fine to say that there are certain aspects of experience and worship for which the “tools of liberal science” are less helpful; I flatly disagree, however, if the claim is that the “tools of liberal science” have no place in religion or worship at all.

    Robert C: I would just note that one common form of idolatry is clearly to take something that is meant to have instrumental value (e.g., money), and treat it as though it has intrinsic value. I’m not opposed to what you say. But again, there’s a complimentary danger to the one you point out. Not only should I want to be useful to God (as you note), I also ought to be sensitive to his rejections – sometimes it’s because we need to change. We obviously need to steer between the shoals on either side.

    Michael: Just to be clear, I don’t think anyone (at least, certainly not Jim or myself) is calling for you to leave revelation and seeking after truth in the hands of apostles. As Joseph said, learn all the truth you can, otherwise you’ll not come off a true Mormon! The questions here concern how to appropriately utilize our intellectual gifts vis-à-vis the institution of the church, with it’s clear hierarchy of stewardship & authority. An important tangent to this issue is how to appropriately respond to what we might perceive as problems.

    Adam: I’ll admit – I think American pragmatism’s got a lot to offer! But your lily point is a great one. I’m confused, however, with why you think there’s no room to consider (a key word) the lilies here. Clearly when we, for example, utilize nature as a commodity-free zone, we are in fact commodifying it. This is a real danger, particular today. Like you, I don’t want to compromise the lilies. But yes, I’m enough of a pragmatist to believe in (even metaphysical) pluralism. My personal experience tells me that I can harvest vegetables to eat from my zen garden, and even do so in such a way as to accentuate the zen. While I recognize the disproportionate nature of the dangers today, the influence can still flow both ways.

    Jeremiah: I read something of my own biography in what you say – among other things, I currently live several thousand miles from close friends and families, and its rare that I find friends in my ward with similar intellectual passions as myself. As noted above, however, I think it’s critical that we do still make friends. I discuss a lot of the issues you raise explicitly in a Dialogue essay here.

    In answer to your question of church dialectics, I know that the issue of “loyal opposition” is a complicated and sensitive one. But there’s a sense in which the answer is obviously “Yes – and there always has been.” Like any institution, the church changes dialectically (which is not to say that’s the only way change comes), and it’s easy to see the “internal” as well as the “external” dialectic in our history. As I note, however, unlike Toscano, I don’t recognize an inherent (moral or practical) symmetry between church authorities and those playing the (perhaps de facto) role of the loyal opponents. Part of what I’m trying to do above is outline how one might appropriately play that role.

    And amen to your claim that intellectuals are part of the body of Christ.

    Ralph: I’m quite sympathetic to your position and love the reference to Plato. There is, of course, a difference between “cannot avoid a certain responsibility” and moral obligation or institutional/authoritative recognition.

    TLP: I think it’s a tension, not a paradox. Maybe, once again, I’m just more optimistic here.

    Britt: Great analogy, I really appreciated it. My sister’s a professional choral conductor, and has often led choirs in church. I think she’d say that she absolutely uses every bit of professional talent she can get away with, while incorporating and edifying rather than alienating choir members. That’s the trick, right? I think it requires a certain sort of translation since, as you note, the telos is different (at least in the immediate sense) between what we’re doing on our jobs and in the church – in your example, building love, unity and fun at church, rather than physical excellence and winning teams. As a SS teacher, I can’t literally assign and evaluate homework at church – but I can certainly try and (lovingly) demand reading before class, curiosity, honest questioning, attempts to see things in a different light, and a serious, growing engagement with the scriptures, just as I do with students in my class.

    Lucy: Alas, I tried for a witty response or a quote from some authority, but I’m failing. I mean it in a colloquial, everyday sense (I’m not going for anything sophisticated or profound) – one who’s passionately engaged in academic pursuits and committed to rigor, whether professionally or as a part of their self understanding.

  34. hyperphil on February 27, 2012 at 11:48 am

    A new twist. As I read Jim’s essay, I too recalled sitting at his knee in the BYU philosophy dept. Being at a curious place in my own faith journey, there is yet another component I detected in Jim’s essay.

    Fear. Fear of error. And fear of retaliation.

    Church authorities are to be respected and revered. Many regard ANY crticism of them as evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed (I do not; only an.untruth constitutes evil speaking). If *every* word spoken by authorities is indeed revelation, the debate.is over. We should shut up and sit down, and.keep our exegesis to.ourselves.

    If, on the other hand, Mark Peterson’s comments on contraception or Adam-God is *not* revelation, then we acknowledge that there are nonrevelatory pronouncements made by leadership. But, Jim advocates staying silent, even in such instances.

    The ostensible reason why is to avoid pride May I critically add that the pure love if Christ does not appear to be the only source for such motivation. Church leadership has the power to take from any person questioning them their right to full fellowship In such a minefield, it is best to treat every rock as a mine.

    You will already detect in my comment an undercurrent questioning whether such a motivation issues from sound doctrine, and I will confess I regard it as a misapplication of grace. I am no apologist for the church in its current form. I confess my bias, and throw my comment to the group.

  35. ji on February 27, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Jeremiah (no. 23) — Your candor is commendable. You wrote, “I have been engaged in a relentless internal dialectic about a number of ‘issues’ with the Church.” I don’t approach these issues from an intellectual framework. For me, my framework is one of faith: Is Jesus the Christ, my savior and redeemer, the Eternal God? (YES) and did this same God restore the priesthood through the Prophet Joseph Smith? (YES). On this framework of faith, I am able to deal with the issues in a way that is satisfactory to me. I love to read and I love to study, but all this is in support of my faith.

  36. CRW on February 27, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Although I am not blessed with a philosophic mind, I too listened to Jim F. in class and had a glimpse of the golden tradition that began with Socrates. I respect his respect of Church authority. Being female, I’m never really confused about what’s my personal revelation and what’s revelation for the Church (except for during a spasm of very young and naive feminism which burned itself out – regarding the Church – years ago).

    Maybe it comes from the perspective of being permanently outside the channels of Church power, but I am always amazed at how LDS intellectuals (usually male, but not always) conflate the direct will of God with comments, lectures, and opinions by men in Church authority. It seems to go against what those men in authority have said historically about their own revelatory process.

    I may love the Church because of what I perceive to be the will of God shining through the statements of men. I may even decide to love the Church just because it is a community of people who are trying hard to do good. But I can love the Church without believing that God speaks directly through any man with authority over me, so shut up. It seems like an unnecessarily supine and despairing position to take.

  37. Trevor Price on February 27, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    I think that God often gives me a calling because he wants *me* to fill the position, not just a generic Mormon formed by a cookie cutter. He expects me to bring my own life experiences, my own strengths, and my own perspectives. To leave my unique stamp on the calling. Whether the tools of my trade are intellectual, historical, or technical, it’d be a waste to leave them behind and pretend I’m an automaton.

  38. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 27, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    The Steve Young example is useful: My point would be that he did not determine the instrumental value of what he did for the Church. He played football as well as he could and did whatever that demanded. As I understand it (and I may well be wrong) he followed his conscious and publicly did not support the Church’s work for Proposition 8 in California. In each case, he did what he needed to do as best he could, but he didn’t do what he did in order to bring about some effect, in order to make himself useful, as either a missionary for the Church (in the first case) or as a critic of the Church (in the second). That’s quite different, in my eyes from performers and athletes and intellectuals who are at great pains to benefit or correct the Church, at great pains to see to it that what they do brings about some effect in the Church. They are not satisfied to do their work well and to leave the question of further usefulness to circumstance and history.

    That is a beautifully executed example.

    Thank you.

  39. Blake on February 28, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Jim and Ethesis: At first I was taken with the Steve Young example as well. How beautiful that we just do the best that we can and let the benefit flow wherever it may to benefit the kingdom. But the more I thought about the more it highlighted precisely what makes me uncomfortable.

    When Steve Young throws (threw) a beautiful, it doesn’t have any implications for the teachings of the gospel in terms of substantive content. For example, it doesn’t have any implications for whether a particular discourse given by an apostle may fail to capture or even mislead on a particular issue. However, most “intellectual” or academic pursuits are inherently issue driven. If I write about foreknowledge, I am at the very least implicitly disagreeing with several apostles and prophets and at the very least calling into question the revealed status of their pronouncements. It could never be the same with Steve Young’s touch down pass — and to compare them is to miss something essential about the activity in which we engage. Engaging in “intellectual” pursuits seems to inherently imply that I have an expertise or knowledge that is not generally available and that I offer it up in service of the kingdom. Yet it is precisely because I lack any credentials that what I do inherently suggests and alternative path to knowledge and truth than authoritative revelation. I am implicitly asserting that I have something valuable to offer (I hope others freely choose to see it that way too) and that what is offered couldn’t be offered better by just staying out of it.

    Further, it isn’t that I just choose to be charitable and the issues that interest me and that I choose to address just fall out. Rather there is an inextricable interplay between what I love and what I pursue, but often my pursuit is directed to unanticipated paths and issues that I feel passionate to address. For example, I write because I see a beauty and strength in the philosophical and theological vision of Joseph Smith and the scriptures that I want to cast into the bright light of discourse and consideration — and I want to cast that light. I choose to write about the things I do because of a love I have for the subject matter — but in doing so I also call into question opposing visions. I don’t mind saying that I find Calvinism and, to a lesser extent, Thomism rather detestable. I know others find great beauty in them. So I do my best to ask what it is that they love and love and why it is beautiful to them, and then argue that it leads to a view of god that is rather morally reprehensible and why another view works better. If that is not an agenda, what is? And yet I believe I am driven by love for the Church and the subject matter — and so it is much more than philosophy and theology to me. Is is more like water and air and good food. So how is that not agenda driven?

    It seems that there are agendas, and then there are agendas, and distinguishing between them in a way that makes sense has yet to be done for me.

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