Author: Melissa

Melissa blogged at Times and Seasons between 2004 and 2005. She teaches at a university in the Northeast.

Bungling the Basics?

Several weeks ago during lunch at a professional conference a colleague told me that the LDS missionaries had knocked on his door recently. I took a deep breath and immediately commenced mental preparations for whatever he was going to ask me. This particular colleague is a philosopher of religion so I was fairly sure he was going to ask me about some bit of LDS history or theology. But, I was wrong.

Ambivalence as a Theological Virtue?

In her book, The Religious Imagination of American Women, Mary Farrell Bednarowski suggests that to understand the lived religious experience of American women one must appreciate the ambivalence they experience in their religious traditions. According to Bednarowski this ambivalence is not to be identified as a state of confusion, indecisiveness or vacillating equivocation. Rather, ambivalence is the reflective position of religious women who experience both a deep sense of belonging and an equally strong sense of alienation and distrust. Thoughtful American women, she argues, are committed and connected to their religious communities, but also critical of the religious traditions which define those communities. She explains that the virtue of ambivalence “stirs up love and hate, attraction and repulsion, devotion and impatience . . .” Bednarowski argues that such ambivalence is a virtue that ought to be cultivated since living in the unsettled tension of ambivalence has great potential for theological creativity. Interestingly, Bednarowski points to Mormon women as among those who successfully cultivate this sort of willed ambivalence. Although I believe that learning to live gracefully with unresolved (and un-resolvable) paradox is one of the marks of mature adulthood, I wonder if Bednarowski’s suggestion of a piety of ambivalence can cohere with Mormon scripture and doctrine without painful cognitive dissonance. Throughout the LDS canon we encounter few examples of ambivalence. Of course, there are the three famous J’s—Jonah, Jeremiah and Job, who all manifest their own sort of ambivalence. But…