The Cyclical Nature of BYU’s Religious Education

A guest post from Mrs. Silence Dogood

One of the most interesting books on Mormon history to appear in the last year was Thomas Simpson’s American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism (University of North Carolina Press). You can read reviews of the book here, here, here, and here, as well as interviews here and here. As a summary, Simpson argues that the Mormon tradition’s awkward, uneven, but relentless interaction with higher education drove much of the Americanization process during the Church’s transition period between 1870 and 1940. Young Latter-day Saints traveled to Harvard, Michigan, Johns Hopkins, and Chicago to receive a secular education and better integrate into their surrounding society. Yet the process was complex and brought unintended consequences, especially at home. Most poignantly, not everyone in Utah, especially at the leadership levels, was excited about the new knowledge that graduates brought back with them. A resurgent populism and ever-present authoritarianism countered these modernist ideas and led to several significant clashes. This is an important narrative concerning the origins of the modern Mormon mind. Continue reading “The Cyclical Nature of BYU’s Religious Education”

“That’s not how the Church Presents Itself”: An Irreverent Response

The Church is largely to blame for the faith crisis among segments of the Mormon community. It promoted a black and white worldview where Truth is self-evident, and it supported this view with “faith-promoting” narratives that ignored the messy facts of history. One of the fruits of this approach is having this very mentality reflected back on the Church—when joining the Church is an existential choice, leaving it can likewise be existential. Disillusionment with the Church oddly does not necessarily lead to disillusionment with its black-and-white positivist worldview. So, many of the disaffected are “Truth-seekers”—just following wherever the (self-evident) evidence takes them.  Continue reading ““That’s not how the Church Presents Itself”: An Irreverent Response”

Taylor Petrey is Tenured: What does This Mean for LDS Scholars of Religion?

We’ve been running our Tips on Applying Series for nearly a decade. We heard from Taylor Petrey back in 2010 when he offered some advice on securing an academic position in religious studies. Taylor has recently received tenure, which is a big deal not only for him, but for all Latter-day Saints involved in the study of religion. He graciously agreed to talk to us about his work and how he earned tenure.

  Continue reading “Taylor Petrey is Tenured: What does This Mean for LDS Scholars of Religion?”

On Maintaining Integrity in Difficult Circumstances

Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else; if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, as one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official Church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism.

Joseph Ratzinger, Gaudium et Spes, n. 16 in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, Volume 5, ed. Herbert Vorgrimler, New York, Herder and Herder, 1969, 134.

Authority is Our Sacred Cow, and It Must be Domesticated

I believe that there are members of our faith that would engage in acts of terrorism if asked by the leaders of our Church. For instance, in a discussion about two years ago on M*, one of the perma-bloggers said the following with regard to Abraham attempting to sacrifice Isaac: “Smallaxe, with the testimony I have of the living prophets, if President Monson were to call upon me to sacrifice one of my children, I would do so.”

If someone is willing to sacrifice his own child at the request of the Prophet, you can be sure that he would be willing to sacrifice the children of others (this blogger actually joked earlier in the conversation that he’d willingly sacrifice my child). While only one other person in the conversation explicitly supported his position, no one from the blog refuted him; and none were willing to come up with a position that precluded this kind of fundamentalism.

While anecdotal, I think it speaks to a more general issue—we have a problem with authority. In a more recent discussion on the same blog, I was reminded (not so gently) that Elder Oaks said, “Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities, general or local. Jude condemns those who ‘speak evil of dignities.’ (Jude 1:8.) Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true. As Elder George F. Richards, President of the Council of the Twelve, said in a conference address in April 1947, ‘When we say anything bad about the leaders of the Church, whether true or false, we tend to impair their influence and their usefulness and are thus working against the Lord and his cause.’”  Continue reading “Authority is Our Sacred Cow, and It Must be Domesticated”

Clarifying “How the CES Letter Works”

One purpose of my previous post was to highlight the way in which the intent we ascribe to others impacts our ability to trust them. If we believe that that someone is out to get us, we ought not trust them. On the other hand, if we believe that someone has our best interest in mind, we can trust him or her provided that other conditions are met (e.g., they are capable of carrying out the task for which they are trusted, etc.).

In the case of the “Letter to a CES Director,” Jeremy Runnells attributes malintent to the leadership of the Church. This has the effect of foreclosing the possibility of rebuilding trust in the leadership. I argued that instead of seeing the Church’s construction of its history as unprincipled, we should see it as unskilled. Continue reading “Clarifying “How the CES Letter Works””

Doubt is Not Always a Choice

Doubt is not always a matter of choice. With regard to many LDSs who experience a crisis of faith, I would state the matter more strongly: Doubt is rarely a matter of choice. In this previous post I told a fictional story about Jack, who was born in the Church, loved the Church, but came to doubt the Church. For people such as Jack, keeping his faith in the Church would in many regards make his life easier. Transitioning out of the Church would entail painful personal and social consequences. I’m of the mind that very few people actively seek out that kind of disruption. Continue reading “Doubt is Not Always a Choice”

On Doubt and Trust

Doubt can be thought of as a kind of questioning; and to question is to ask for reasons or an explanation for something one does not understand. One might wonder, for instance, what the Church does with its money. People do not always provide reasonable answers to questions; and how one processes an unreasonable answer will depend on a number of factors including one’s relationship with the individuals (or entities) one questions. If I trust the Church, for instance, I am much more likely to accept an answer that does not provide reasons. In looking at the question about how the Church handles its money, I might accept “doing good things” as an answer even if such an answer does not fully address the question.

In my experience, there are a lot of things we (LDSs) accept on trust. We trust that the Church is spending our money responsibly and ethically. We trust that keeping the commandments will bring blessings. We trust that our leadership receives revelation to guide our lives, etc. Trust, IMO, is often good; and it is an important part of a meaningful relationship. The trouble with trust, however, is at least two-fold. For one, trust is much easier lost than it is gained. One untrustworthy act can unfortunately undo a dozen trustworthy ones. Secondly, trust must be continually renewed. In some regards, trust is like money in a bank account. Every time I say, “trust me,” I withdraw some money from the account. If I do not replenish the account, there will come a time when the account will be empty.

I believe that many disaffected members of the Church are disaffected because this bank account of trust has zeroed out. Continue reading “On Doubt and Trust”