my stab at proper balance between the intellectual and the spiritual, for now anyway

Here’s the other post in the series so far and where you’ll also find a link to the series announcement.

“What is your philosophy of Religious Education and what should be the proper balance between the intellectual and the spiritual in BYU Religion classes?”

This is a very important question that I wish could be discussed more, and more openly, throughout the church at all levels. Because it does not just concern students in religious education classes at church schools. It concerns everyone. To me it seems that Church History and Doctrine is to be commended for asking the question.

In brief, I think the same give-and-take between the intellectual and the spiritual needs to happen in the fields of religious, biblical, and related studies as happens in fields like biology. With the exception of some members who are free to do differently, Mormonism as an institution and at BYU has made accommodations for evolution. To read Mormonism’s history with evolution as a lack of valiance in standing for the spiritual truth revealed to God’s prophets in scripture ancient and modern would be dangerous and counterproductive to the growth of the church and its schools. And yet this is the way Mormonism’s history with biblical criticism for example is still being written. No, biblical criticism is not a science on par with evolutionary biology. But it hardly amounts to mere interpretation.

Put more simply, balance does not mean: accommodate the intellectual only where it does not conflict with the spiritual. Balance means balance. And this goes for all areas of human knowledge.

Tacit in the dichotomy between the intellectual and the spiritual is the assumption that the intellectual is human and the spiritual is not. But the spiritual is human too. It could not be otherwise. There is no such thing as divine revelation that comes to us straight from God without being mediated through human thought, language, culture, society, etc.

When members of the church operate as if there is such a thing, then Mormonism ends up with ‘folk doctrine’ that it cannot get behind it, because it cannot treat its spiritual leaders as human, even though everybody knows they are. Unmediated divine revelation is comforting in a sense, and I admit that from that perspective the alternatives can seem threatening. But it does not make for long-term stability of the group or the individual.

Finally, for those worried about forced or total secularization. That is not what I am saying. To admit that divine revelation does not exist unmediated does not mean that it does not exist. It just means that it is mediated through human thought, language, culture, society, etc. The spiritual cannot be separated from its humanness. The sooner in life a religious person comes to terms with this, the better, in my opinion.

And in conclusion, it would not do to replace one orthodoxy with another. What is needed is space in which church members, whether in religious education or elsewhere, are allowed to attempt balancing the intellectual and the spiritual as best they can in their present circumstances. If for some that is with the scales tipped most of the way down on either side, so be it. The important thing is allowing various and different kinds of attempts at balance.

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