This most recent conference struck me in an interesting way. I found myself listening closely for some small sign that the speakers read and engage topics outside of the scriptures and other GA talks. While I didn’t hear every talk this weekend, I found little evidence that they consumed many books or are aware of scholarly or educated discourses on the topics they discussed. Instead, they seem mostly to traffic in anecdotes and offer homespun wisdom. I do not intend to suggest an implicit hierarchy between homespun wisdom and scholarly discourses. I happen to like both.
By contrast, I listen to the weekly sermon on the local NPR affiliate regularly. The preacher speaks about 3 times a month for 20 minutes. (The other weeks the associate pastor speaks, or a guest). I am always blown away. Each sermon is a masterful peice that is deeply immersed in theology, literature, current events, and poetry. These are central not only in terms of content, but in form. Granted, the chapel is based in a University, but this is not the only or even primary audience. Books, literature, and big ideas literally fill the sermon, and he does it over and over again. He is a voracious learner. He also runs a church and has a family, sending his last son to college this year.
I do not mean to suggest that GA talks are completely devoid of references to books. C. S. Lewis makes frequent appearences, though less and less after Elder Maxwell. Les Miserables shows up. Elder Holland shows definite signs of reading. President Hinkley cited having read a book demonstrating that many of the biblical authors did not write the books attributed to them (to the delight of all 10 LDS Bible scholars!). Clearly some read and incorporate what they have learned and thought deeply about into their speeches. But these few examples stand out for their rarity, as exceptions to the rule.
So why is it that LDS discourse is marked by lack of reference to books? There are a few possible reasons.
1. As a rule, they just don’t read outside of the scriptures and other GA talks because:
a. They are too busy.
b. They are not scholars of the humanities and as such have not read as part of their lives before becoming GAs. They were not trained in these matters and between family, professions, and church service they just haven’t taken broad reading as a habit.
c. There is a general skepticism about the value of the wisdom of the “world” on spiritual or theological matters in GA culture.
d. They already know all the answers.
2. They do happen to read broadly but don’t show it overtly because:
a. They speak often to an international audience and the scholarly or literary references would be out of place.
b. They often speak to a general church membership who is not well educated who either wouldn’t appreciate the references or may find church leaders to be elitist or classist in some regards.
c. They try to avoid referencing authors for fear of appearing to condone them in toto, even if they are just referencing one idea.
d. Their words are deeply influenced by what they read, but they don’t cite it.
These suggestions are just provisional, so I am interested in what you all think is the best explanation for the GA discourse that ignores or occludes scholarly conversations and generally avoid the appearance of being engaged with scholarly or high fictional literature, even that produced by Mormon, let alone those outside. If these, or any other reasons are accurate, what do you think of them? How is it that LDS GA discourse has not taken reference to books as important?