A Mormon Studies Family

Both of my parents (now divorced) have been deeply involved in Mormon studies for my entire life. Thus, I grew up in a Mormon studies family. My father is a senior curator at the Museum of Church History and Art and was hired by the Church Historical Department a few months before I was born. My mother was one of the early editors of Sunstone Magazine and worked as an editor and then board member of Signature Books while I was growing up. The result is that I think of most of the big names in Mormon studies – Richard Bushman, Michael Quinn, Ron Walker, etc. – as people that my parents know. My earliest memories of Mormon publications are of looking through old issues of Sunstone. It made for an interesting childhood.

I have been wondering if there is anything of interest in this experience beyond my own autobiographical navel gazing. Probably not, but here are some thoughts. Growing up, I had parallel awarenesses of Mormonism. On one hand, I went to Sunday school in a fairly typical suburban Utah ward and then attended seminary at a high school in Salt Lake City. On the other hand, I was always aware of the goings on at Sunstone symposiums, Signature Books, and the Church Historical Department. This is probably not all that a-typical, on the other hand many members who find themselves intellectually disillusioned with the Church frequently relate what I think of as “discovery narratives.” In these stories they breathlessly recount how they first came to realize that all was not as they had been told in Sunday School or Seminary and explain how they came to fearlessly confront the difficulties and complexities of their religion. I never really had this experience and have always had a hard time sympathizing. (Although the lack of sympathy is probably mainly attributable to the fact that I am generally an unsympathetic jerk. Hence the law degree.) Sunday School and Mormon Studies (if I may use those two images as place holders for differing approaches to my religion) have been so intertwined in my thinking about the Mormonism that the task of disentangling them so as to put them in stark conflict hasn’t held much appeal for me. I take this as evidence that early exposure of Mormon “difficulties” can have an inoculating effect.

If I haven’t been able to valorize Mormon intellectuals as fearless truth tellers, I have also had a hard time demonizing them. My mother is a fine and gentle Mormon apostate. As near as I can tell, she long ago lost the faith of her childhood, but the marks of Mormonism are still heavy upon her. Any bitterness she may have once harbored about the Church long ago disappeared, and now she is merely interested. Much of post-Mormon intellectualdom seems to be engaged in a perpetual apologetic for their apostasy. I can understand why they do it, but I find it a bit boring. However, I think that there are a lot of ex-Mormons who fall into my mother’s category. They are informed (if I can use such a loaded word on this blog…), often interesting, and ultimately harmless.

A lot of so called “cultural Mormons” talk about how they are genetic Latter-day Saints, perpetually captured by the force of a heritage whose religious premises they reject. I suppose that in a similar way I have Mormon studies in my blood. I have repeatedly tried to escape from it, but I find that I keep getting pulled back in, even though the professional returns to Mormon scholarship are meager to non-existent and I really ought to be reading law review articles rather than Orson Pratt. I can’t seem to help myself. Which is, of course, why I am here…

59 comments for “A Mormon Studies Family

  1. December 1, 2003 at 6:01 pm

    An enlightening account, Nate, thanks for sharing it. I would point out that your own rather unique (and fortunate, IMHO) experience of having had early exposure to “Mormon Studies” themes and questions does not render invalid the experience of the vast majority who come by these questions later in life than you (i.e., post-Primary). And discovery is neutral, not tainted. It leads to a deeper and more informed faith as often as it leads to skeptical doubts.

    Also, I think that every Mormon conversion story is a type of “discovery narrative,” to broaden your useful term. From that perspective, discovery narratives may carry more legitimacy than you seem willing to grant them.

  2. Nate
    December 1, 2003 at 6:30 pm

    This seems like a fair point. As I said, my lack of sympathy is probably a character flaw on my part. However, I do think that the discovery narratives often lack independent substance, that is they may be personally valid, but they often don’t illuminate much. I think the similarity between these narratives and conversion stories is an interesting insight. Another parallel is the congruence between Mormon and post-Mormon apologetics.

  3. Ben
    December 4, 2003 at 8:04 pm

    It’s interesting to me that we rarely hear about “discovery narratives” of one kind or another from those who remain strongly faithful to the church. (Thanks to Nate for putting a term to something I hadn’t been able to.) From my experiences, they’re trumpeted by those who wish to use them as anti-conversion experiences, e.g. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, or David Wright. One positive discovery narrative that I have found and enjoyed is by Carlfred Broderick, “The Core of my Belief” in Barlow, Philip L. (Editor) A Thoughtful Faith: Essays on Belief by Mormon Scholars (Centerville, UT: Canon Press, 1986) & (longer version) My Parents Married on a Dare (SLC:Deseret Book, 1996).

    I’ve wondered why this is… I wish that more faithful members (especially those in positions to be heard, e.g. Institute teachers, bishops, etc.) would share their experiences of encountering and resolving scholarship that is beyond the Ensign warm-fuzzy level in terms of content and tone. It seems to me that since these things tend to take members by surprise, some of us could do a better job “innoculating” them. Better to learn of difficult issues in church history or theology from a friendly source than an anti-mormon sucker-punch, in which the goal is to drive people out of the Church by shouting ADAM-GOD at them…

  4. Greg
    December 4, 2003 at 8:23 pm

    Almost 20 years ago, Richard Bushman wrote a amazingly honest and moving “discovery narrative” about his youth and experiences at Harvard. It is called “My Belief,” at can be found in BYU Studies 25, no. 2 (1985): 23–30.

  5. Nate
    December 19, 2003 at 11:34 am

    Ben: Just for the record, Adam-God is one of the things that keeps me in the Church. How can you not love a religion that has such delightfully stange and interesting baggage!!

  6. Grasshopper
    March 29, 2004 at 3:26 pm

    And President Hinckley has been pretty open about it, which I find encouraging (see the interview in the New Yorker).

  7. Grasshopper
    March 29, 2004 at 3:29 pm

    A followup question to this: Elder Holland recently spoke in General Conference about the dangers of exposing our children to our doubts. Is Nate’s story an effective counterexample? How should those of us with small children approach difficult subjects with them?

  8. perklyn
    June 18, 2005 at 7:48 pm

    I recently read your thoughts an considerations on ADAM/GOD, in
    JD 1:51 “elohim, jehovah, and michael or in other words Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”

    consider the following thought, is BY perhaps speaking chaiasmus
    as all other prohets do on ocasion? shifting the name-titles with Adam as father=jehovah as son=and elohim as Holy Ghost makes it possible to reconcile BY’s statement with many more of the scriptures and prophetic statments both ancient and modern. Elohim is the HOLIEST of the three.etc, etc, etc,

    consider also BY’s statement that ‘adam is our GOD and the only GOD with whom we will have to do’ or something like that. The question that many fail to ask when trying to recocile this obviously spiritual ‘3-D’ statement is this, at what point in ADAMs eternal progression is BY referring to? I hope I dont tweak any orthdox mormons with the following but I did pray about this and was led to think in the above terms and then when my spiritual mind was open and thirsting I was led to a statment quoting Hyrum Smith in Anne Sjodahls D&C commentary. the following was in a footnote explaining something in section 88 it says that King ADAM (no longer Prince Michael) would lead his posterity, under the direction of Jesus Christ, in the CREATION and POPULATION of worlds

    and everyone is more or less familiar with the King Follett discourse in which the prophet states that we will ‘move from exaltation to exaltation’

    I quess what I am trying to point out is that the WHOLE body of truth exists like the peices of a puzzle which are scattered amongst many boxes because some of the pieces were lost or cleaned up in to much of a hurry. ‘If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of GOD’,, GOD gives liberally and does not upbraid. The problem with “apostate” disillusionment is that they read but do not pray in faith for help to put the puzzle together

  9. Elisabeth
    August 19, 2005 at 12:17 pm

    Thanks for resurrecting this post, Nate. I often wonder what the net effect would be if members of the Church (and its leaders) felt comfortable publicly talking about the thornier issues of polygamy, modern-day revelation, etc. I wonder if more people would be drawn to the Church and towards developing an even stronger testimony with the “warts and all” approach, or if more people would be unable to reconcile these most difficult issues when faced with them head-on, and leave. In any event, I envy the openness in which you were raised. Please excuse (or ignore) the personal question, but do you have brothers or sisters who share your feelings about the Church and Church activity, or have they opted to leave?

  10. Daniel
    August 19, 2005 at 1:36 pm

    Thanks for this post. My dad is a Mormon “intellectual” of sorts (his first job out of BYU was teaching seminary full-time when only 2 of 150 or so candidates were selected), so I grew up with a lot of this, too, though not, it sounds, to the extent you did. I have thought a lot about how my own interests in Mormon doctrine and Church history stemmed from watching my dad earnestly and excitedly studying Nibley and the scriptures, etc.

    I’ve thought a lot about what you’re asking, and I think the simple conclusion I’ve come to is similar to my approach to sex education with my kids — namely, that if things are presented in a spirit of faith, not doubt, those things will not register in their minds as something to fear. Most of the attitude that young children develop about a subject comes from the attitude that they perceive we have with regards to that subject. In other words, if I speak about a doctrine in hushed, scary tones and think of it as evil, I am probably going to have kids who approach it that way as well. I hope I’m right. What are your thoughts?

    Perklyn — thanks for a great analogy (the puzzle).

    With regards to certain doctrines — I guess there are many doctrines I don’t have the answer to that I put up on the shelf and hope for an answer later. I try not to allow my preoccupation with one doctrine to keep me from my testimony just because I don’t have the answer now. I’d be really curious to hear how others manage their doctrinal quandaries intellectually.

  11. Wilfried
    August 19, 2005 at 1:53 pm

    This is indeed an interesting topic, Nate, to which I can relate in a “Catholic” way. In Belgium I was raised in a comparable family situation, and in a period of ecclesiastical turmoil, the sixties. My parents were heavily engaged in the aggiornamento, the renewal movement in the Catholic church. In retrospect, there was this strange balance for them to be found between Church loyalty and a forceful critical approach of Catholicism. The difference with the Mormon experience, I guess, was that they did not have to worry about their standing in the Catholic Church, as rank-and-file members would never be bothered if they went too far. Moreover, the rethinking and reshaping of Catholic ideology was an all-encompassing movement, with e.g. the demythologisation of the Scriptures (miracles are symbolic events…) widely accepted. So I grew up in an environment where fundamental questioning of faith and Church history was considered normal. But I also saw how devastating it became: in those and subsequent years the Catholic Church in Belgium (and elsewhere in Western-Europe) lost most of its Church-attendance and the true belief in unseen realities was virtually destroyed.

    Interestingly, in my conversion to Mormonism in that very same period, that educational experience at home had the following effect: I knew beforehand questioning and critique was possible, but I also saw to what it could lead. So, when I gained my testimony, I think I directly felt how important it would be to keep the Essence separated from controversial side issues. While still an “investigator” I got confronted with all those issues, as I was given stacks of anti-Mormon literature. But the Essence was so clearly defined in my mind that it never undermined my testimony, on the contrary.

    I tend to agree that it is important that converts are also quickly made aware of controversial issues, both in Mormon history and in doctrine, of course to a minimal extent. Enemies of the Church will confront them with these issues and the shock of discovery may contribute to inactivity, as I have often seen. It certainly is not an easy thing for the Church to determine to what extent certain issues need to be brought up. But avoiding them as inexistent or insignificant is probably not the right course, at least not for certain types of investigators.

  12. texasviolinist
    August 19, 2005 at 2:38 pm

    LDS doctrine is very challenging what with angels, gold plates, and all that. You confront it and either accept it or deny it. The middle ground is lukewarm and the payoff (“spue thee out of my mouth”) doesn’t seem to that attractive. Then Christianity as acknowledged by many to include resurrections, ascensions, infinite sacrifices, virgin births and all that is pretty challenging. Accept or deny it.

    All of these things are God’s challenge to our pride (i.e. our confidence in our ability to reason). He demands that we find another way to accept him. One that requires humility. One that acknowledges (indeed requires) our power to reason but demands our willingness to sacrifice it.

    But that said its been my experience that most apostacy has a limbic origin. The intellectual portion of the mind is just used for excuses.

  13. manaen
    August 19, 2005 at 2:41 pm

    Daniel, I mostly do as you do with questions for which I don’t yet have an answer: “…I put up on the shelf and hope for an answer later. I try not to allow my preoccupation with one doctrine to keep me from my testimony just because I don’t have the answer now.” Not knowing is different from knowing it’s not true.

    I would be very troubled by these issues if they were all I had to consider about the gospel. But, having my own “Essence” — borrowing Wilfried’s excellent term from #11 above – these issues are marginal items on my to-do list. My Essence is the mighty change of heart that I received through: the atonement, the priesthood, and charity (see first two paragraphs in #21 of “Why Universal Love is Creepy”). After personally experiencing that “remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love (Mni 8:26),” I’m not willing to deny my own experience because of things I do not understand yet.

  14. b bell
    August 19, 2005 at 2:42 pm


    “So, when I gained my testimony, I think I directly felt how important it would be to keep the Essence separated from controversial side issues. While still an “investigator” I got confronted with all those issues, as I was given stacks of anti-Mormon literature. But the Essence was so clearly defined in my mind that it never undermined my testimony, on the contrary.”

    This is the reality. If we have a testimony that the God is our Father, Jesus is the Christ, BOM/JS Prophet is true then everything else falls into place. This is the Essence that I think that Winifred is referencing. I am aware of all the warts. But I see them as side issues. Not the Essence

    Winifred I am still expecting to see you sign a million dollar contract with Deseret Book for your first book

  15. August 19, 2005 at 2:44 pm

    I had read this back in the archives a while ago and am glad to see it revived. I found the description of your mom rather fascinating. She is by all accounts a fabulous woman, who I am pleased to have met.

    My baptism in to Mormon studies was not as early (post secondary school). I wonder how you interacted in the Sunday school realm as a child. It seems like it is difficult to not share the knowlege one has, and I imagine that knowing more than your Sunday School teachers posed an interesting dynamic. Did you keep it to your self, or where you a jerk?

  16. Winnie
    August 19, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    b. bell – it’s Wilfried, not Winifred. And I agree, I’d love to see Wilfried’s stories published for more people to enjoy.

  17. b bell
    August 19, 2005 at 2:52 pm

    Sorry Wilfried. My eyes are getting bad……

  18. Travis Anderson
    August 19, 2005 at 3:51 pm

    Nate, I’d be interested to know why, here and elsewhere, you implicitly equate Mormon intellectuals (“If I haven’t been able to valorize Mormon intellectuals as fearless truth tellers, . . .”) with apostates, faithless critics, members with troubled testimonies, etc. You clearly aren’t the only one to do this, but since this is your post, I’ll ask you. Are those Mormons who are secure in their faith inherently non-intellectual, to your mind? Is it your impression that all my “intellectual” colleagues here at BYU and elsewhere are either pseudo-intellectuals or closet sympathizers with the Sunstone crowd, as you paint it? What in your experience precludes being both intellectually engaged with gospel principles/teachings (which seems to me an integral aspect of a genuine religious life), and being a faithful disciple of Christ?

  19. Kingsley
    August 19, 2005 at 4:00 pm

    “What in your experience precludes being both intellectually engaged with gospel principles/teachings (which seems to me an integral aspect of a genuine religious life), and being a faithful disciple of Christ? ”

    Seems like you’d have to stretch really hard to interpret Nate that way. He and his father are obviously examples of intellectually engaged Saints who are also faithful disciples. I am not 100% positive, but I think Nate is equating a certain strain of LDS intellectualism with apostasy.

  20. texasviolinist
    August 19, 2005 at 4:08 pm

    Travis Anderson,

    How do you define intellectual? Some define it as smart and everyone else as stupid. I define it as a person who depends on their own reason and rejects faith. Its pretty clear then that by this definition that an intellectual is in the categories of ( or close to ) apostate, faithless critic, members with troubled testimonies since you can only be truly religious with faith.

    I know lots of smart people (in fact brilliant people) who have enormous powers of reason and expression that I cannot call intellectual because of their deep and abiding faith. Many people who post here, write for FARMS, are on the faculties of major universities, are scientists and scholars etc. are not intellectuals because they fail the “depend on their own reason” test.

  21. Daniel
    August 19, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    texasviolinist — Wonderful words:

    “All of these things are God’s challenge to our pride (i.e. our confidence in our ability to reason). He demands that we find another way to accept him. One that requires humility. One that acknowledges (indeed requires) our power to reason but demands our willingness to sacrifice it. But that said its been my experience that most apostacy has a limbic origin. The intellectual portion of the mind is just used for excuses.”

    My dad used to say that people don’t lose faith in the gospel, they lose faith in their ability to live the gospel. Probably an overgeneralization, but usually true. Thanks for these wise words.

    manaen: Nice dichotomy — difference between not knowing something and knowing something isn’t true. I think we often forget this, yet I have to confess that I had never really thought about having a testimony that something is not true, a negative testimony so to speak, though I think I’ve prayed about some things in the past with the hope and implied understanding that I would essentially receive a testimony one way or the other about doctrines (Adam-God). Perhaps that was a juvenile hope to think that God would reveal to me the peripheral, but I’m curious to hear further musings from you and others about whether we can actually receive a testimony that something is not true, aside from the “Holy Ghost will tell you the truth of all things” variety, since I believe that the Holy Ghost does teach us truth and help us to call not call good evil and vice-versa, but I’m not sure if we can actually receive a testimony that something is not true. Maybe that is the gift of discernment, though. Hmm. I need to think about this one more. Especially tough since so many things are not pure blends of truth or error, but are usually an amalgam. Many times what seemed like falsehood to me at one period of my life I later found to be full of blazing truth that shined like the sun when I was ready for it.

    I am fond of the adage that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” though perhaps that saying is not as applicable in terms of religious knowledge, since it could be that our personal receptors for divine revelation are down rather than there being a lack of revelation, as Amulek seems to acknowledge. Any thoughts?

  22. manaen
    August 19, 2005 at 4:16 pm

    texasviolinist, see the following exchange from “So I Married an Intellectual.” Nate has the final words:

    16. Is there not a difference between smart/intelligent and intellectual? For me,
    * smart/intelligent is the measure of intelligence, or intellectual capacity, and
    * intellectual is the measure of (self)occupation of the intellectual capacity, whether that capacity be great or small.
    Comment by manaen — 8/15/2005 : 7:06 pm.

    17. Manaen: I think that the distinction you are groping toward is between “smart person” and “geeky prick.”
    Comment by Nate Oman — 8/15/2005 : 7:18 pm

  23. gst
    August 19, 2005 at 4:55 pm

    An intellectual is someone who thinks for a living. They may or may not be good at it, just as someone who cooks for a living may or may not be a good chef.

  24. manaen
    August 19, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    Daniel, I hope I’m answering your question here. Maybe I’m missing something. D&C 9:8-9 put burning bosom and stupor of thought as opposing indicators of right/truth. I’ve taken this to mean that a negative answer is as available as a positive one. I’ve received each after studying out and submitting a proposed decision to the Lord about whether to accept a job, to hire someone, to go into a venture, or to call a particular person to a particular church position. During my wonder years of seeking for true religion, the negative answers about other faiths were useful as well as the positive one I received about the restored church. (It was difficult to admit that my LDS parents had been right all along. I’m grateful that they let me roam to find out for myself).

    I admit that I haven’t prayed much whether or not some of the doctrines are true. I suppose this didn’t occur to me because my positive answer about the church precluded any OK-but-what-about-this-part questions. Instead, I ask to understand what is the truth. Sometimes the answer comes quickly, sometimes not.

  25. Travis Anderson
    August 19, 2005 at 5:02 pm

    Kingsley, your comments beg my question. Texasviolinist, your idiosyncratic definition (“I define it as a person who depends on their own reason and rejects faith”) seems akin to the notion I see at work in Nate’s assumptions (regardless of his or his father’s actual faith or behavior, which is largely beside the point and not under attack, as I know them both) and for which I can find no justification at all. Maybe what such people (the so-called intellectuals) need is more intellectual acumen, not less. Because the brilliant people you describe above choose to use the reason that God gave them, doesn’t make them faithless–but by the same token, failing to pass your strange litmus test doesn’t prevent them from being intellectuals, since any standard or sensible definition of the word would include them as such.

    And I see no evidence that God requires us to “sacrifice” reason; quite the contrary. The Lafferty brothers are evidence of what happens when we adopt that interpretation of faithful discipleship.

  26. Jim F.
    August 19, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    texasviolinist: The intellectual portion of the mind is just used for excuses (#12) and I define it [an intellectual] as a person who depends on their own reason and rejects faith (#20).

    Though the definition you use here is fairly common among Church members, why should we accept it? The standard definition is “one who uses the powers of the intellect,” where “intellect” refers to the powers of understanding. (“Intellect” and “intellectual” share the same root as “intelligence,” which is a doctrinally important word.) I hardly see why understanding is used only to make excuses or why someone who values and uses human understanding must reject faith. Of course there are those who do. However, empirically, most people who reject faith do not do so for intellectual reasons. In other words, being an intellectual is less likely to be correlated with leaving the Church than are other qualities.

    The irony is that this conceptual opposition between faith and the intellect was created in the 18th century as part of the rejection of religion. In other words, the idea that faith and the intellect are opposed to one another is a late part of the apostasy.

    I’m happy to be described as an intellectual. I assume there are a lot of intellectuals in the Church, with or without degrees. In other words, there are lots of people who think about these things using the phrase coined by Augustine, “faith seeking understanding.” I see no reason to let the devil have all of the good words.

  27. Kristine
    August 19, 2005 at 5:08 pm

    texasviolinist: I think there are people who write for FARMS, are professors at BYU, etc., who would object to your idiosyncratic definition of “intellectual,” and who are perfectly happy to apply the label to themselves. Even Elder Packer reserves his scorn for “so-called intellectuals”–perhaps even he thinks the real ones are OK.

    Also, I want to object to the notion that people only use their intellect to cover the sins that are really the reason for their loss of faith. This denies the validity of many people’s experience and the very real and significant problems with church history, doctrine, and policy that sometimes make people feel they cannot continue to embrace Mormonism and maintain their intellectual integrity (which is surely a requirement for loving God with one’s WHOLE mind). It has the pernicious effect of inciting people to wonder about the secret sins of their brothers and sisters who try to explain their disaffection in intellectual terms (surely as unChristian a pastime as one can imagine).

    I am (thank God!) not one of the people who has felt that my study of church history or my discontent with some policies necessitates a break with the church, but I know plenty of virtuous people who have concluded that they must leave, and it makes me angry to see them accused in this way. We ought to have the good grace to listen carefully to people’s reasons for leaving, and not be so insecure about our own testimonies that we need to disbelieve them in order to feel certain that righteous people could never come to conclusions different from our own.

  28. Kristine
    August 19, 2005 at 5:13 pm

    Travis, Nate’s apparently not around to defend himself, and would probably be horrified at having such an incompetent defender, but I think you’ve overgeneralized his scorn of intellectuals. I’m pretty sure he’d accept the label for himself, and his venom is generally reserved for a particular brand of self-aggrandizing whininess that occasionally threatens to engulf the liberal/alternative branch of Mormon studies types.

  29. texasviolinist
    August 19, 2005 at 5:19 pm

    “this conceptual opposition between faith and the intellect was created in the 18th century ”

    O really!? What does it mean in Isaiah when the Lord says: “for my ways are not your ways and my thoughts not your thoughts. For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”?

  30. Travis Anderson
    August 19, 2005 at 5:32 pm

    I wouldn’t presume to say that Nate scorns intellectuals–in fact, his comments about his parents and others would suggest otherwise. I’m just bothered by the proliferation (intentional or unintentional, implied or explicitly claimed) of the notion that being Mormon (or more generally, religious) and being intellectual are incompatible pursuits or practices. Both Jim and Manean have now countered that mistaken idea more eloquently than I could, so I’ll let it rest. But I would still be interested in Nate’s response, since he clearly does imply it–here and elsewhere–whatever his reasons.

  31. Jeremy
    August 19, 2005 at 5:36 pm


    If there’s one thing that bugs me worse than an intellectual elitist, its an ignorantual elitist — one who buys into the phony dichotomy of “faith vs. intellect” in order to vaildate an underabundance of the latter. Or, to put it another way, those who think God judges people by the ratio between their faith and their intelligence rather than by the actual quantities of each. Just as a great intellect cannot make up for a lack of faith, the D&C tells us that faith is largely ineffectual without the pursuit, according to one’s circumstances and ability, of intelligence.

    I hardly think you’re in a position to counsel Jim F. on 18th c. history nor on Old Testament hermeneutics.

    Sorry–a diversion from the topic, but I couldn’t let that blanket accusation pass.

  32. Jim F.
    August 19, 2005 at 5:52 pm

    texasviolinist (#29): In your quotation from Isaiah God tells us that his intellect, his understanding, is higher than ours. How does that imply that our reasoning is opposed to our faith?

    And, if our intellect is opposed to our faith, then how do you explain Doctrine and Covenants 9:8, “you must study it out in your mind,” the several scriptures such as D&C 109:7 that tell us “seek learning even by study and also by faith,” and the various admonitions to get understanding, such as Proverbs 4:5-7: “Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom [is] the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding”?

  33. Kingsley
    August 19, 2005 at 5:53 pm

    Bro. Anderson, I just don’t see where Nate’s post makes any such claim, or even comes close to it. He says certain people come to the warts ‘n all history of the Church late & make a big show of it, & wonders if an earlier exposure would have made a difference. In another place he brings up his mother as an example of an intellectual who has apostatized, but he never says anything negative about intellectualism generally or implies that it can’t go hand in hand with faithfulness.

  34. texasviolinist
    August 19, 2005 at 5:53 pm

    Would you care to tell me what I am missing in Isaiah? If you read my posts carefully you will see that I honor intelligence and reason but if you get all limbic on me you’ll miss it entirely.

    ps don’t you think that ignorantus is an expression unworthy of someone with a mind…?

  35. Jim F.
    August 19, 2005 at 6:15 pm

    texasviolinist (#34): I can’t tell to whom you are responding. Perhaps it is me. If so, I didn’t accuse you of not honoring reason, but of using a bad definition of “intellectual” (I define it as a person who depends on their own reason and rejects faith), and of mistakenly opposing the intellectual part of the mind to the faithful (The intellectual portion of the mind is just used for excuses). I don’t think that saying either of those is consistent with honoring reason, but that is a different question.

    What were you missing in Isaiah? Nothing. But if you take it to mean that the intellect and faith are opposed to one another, then I think you are adding something to it. I don’t see anything in what you quote that suggests they are opposed. To say that the Lord’s understanding is higher than mine is not to say that my understanding is in opposition to my faith.

  36. August 19, 2005 at 7:27 pm

    Winifred — that’s my wife’s name. ;)

  37. texasviolinist
    August 19, 2005 at 7:28 pm

    My reply (34) was not directed at you but to comment 31.

    35. Look there are a lot of intelligent people who really dig deep into the doctrines of the gospel. This is just fine. A faithful intellect (not faithful intellectual which is oxymoronic to me) is a glorious thing to contemplate. But there are so many who rely on their powers of reason to prove the truth of all things. They can’t do it but they’ll never admit it. The Isaiah quote simply says to me that there are barriers to men understanding all the ways of God. Think all you like. Its only wrong if you won’t yield, as you inevitably must, to faith.

    Among my pet peeves are these wannabe thinkers who come to church classes and argue with everything that is said. Its such a teenager stunt.

  38. gary
    August 19, 2005 at 7:29 pm

    texasviolinist: Your statement that God requires us to sacrifice our reason in order to accept him is itself an example of a conclusion which you have reached based on your reason. In light of the many scriptural statements to the contrary, this might be a good time to take your own advice, and sacrifice this particular intellectual conclusion.

  39. Jim F.
    August 19, 2005 at 7:38 pm

    texasviolinist (#37): I think we have come down merely to arguing about words. You say that “faithful intellectual” is an oxymoron. I say that is an idiosyncratic and relatively late (historically) use of the word “intellectual.” But we agree that faith is essential and that it is not inimical to thought. You are free to have your idiosyncracies, especially since you’ve made them explicit. As long as we agree on the important points, the differences in our use of the terms is relatively benign.

  40. Jim F.
    August 19, 2005 at 7:55 pm

    Just something interesting: I tried to do a search on “intellectual” in LDS Collectors Library. I discovered that the copyright arm of the Church is named “Intellectual Reserve”!

  41. Seth Rogers
    August 19, 2005 at 8:12 pm

    Hasn’t this become kind of a thread-jack?

  42. Aaron Brown
    August 19, 2005 at 8:15 pm

    I really hate it when commenters are too lazy to make arguments of their own, resorting to merely echoing the thoughts of others. Nevertheless….

    Ditto to Kristine at #27. (My thoughts exactly).

    Aaron B

  43. manaen
    August 19, 2005 at 8:41 pm

    I believe that the intellect and inspiration properly combined are optimal to answers about spiritual questions, but not in the sense of mingling human philosophies with God’s truths.

    Jesus learned obedience by the things, which he suffered, then becoming complete, he worked out the atonement for us. (Heb. 5:8-9). I believe that illustrates the pattern we also are to follow: exercise the abilities that we have and when they are strong, use them to help others. I believe that intellect, like any other talent (in the NT sense), is not to be thrown aside but to be developed and then to be used beneficently. I believe that the Holy Ghost can quicken the intellect and that we should seek that help even in pragmatic pursuits: in the sense of crying over the crops to prosper in them (Al 34:24), I have solved problems at work quickly when I prayed about them after wrestling for hours on my own.

    Although many practical issues can be solved with unaided intellect, it is impossible to discern spiritual things through intellect in place of the Holy Ghost. “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor 2:11-14).

    This isn’t to say to ask without using the intellect, but that we won’t “receiveth” the answer without inspiration. So, study it out in our minds first, and then ask for an answer. Pondering prepares us to understand what the Spirit then reveals.

  44. Jason Johnson
    August 19, 2005 at 9:57 pm

    I had a similar (though an order of magnitude less rigorous) experience. My bedroom when I was in High School was also my father’s den, and on the bookshelf next to my bed was about 5 feet of old Dialogues from the 70’s. I read them all and had quite a wrestle with them over the years. One thing that kept me from rejecting the church outright (I considered myself an intellectual then) was the knowledge that my parents had read the same things yet still had their testimonies.

    When I finally gained what I considered a testimony and left on my mission I also had little patience for the “discovery narratives” of those older than me that had left activity in the church. At one point when we were contacting less active members my companion and I knocked on the door of that Smith fellow that owns Signature books and invited him out to church. Nice guy, and his wife and kids did come to church a few times before I was transferred out of San Francisco, but it made me wonder about the possibilites of either of those boys gaining their own testimony starting with much of the same information I did, but without the example of parents who expressed their own testimony both in words and through their church service. (My apologies to anyone who made it through that run-on sentence)

  45. Jack
    August 19, 2005 at 10:29 pm


    I sympathize a little with your feelings about “intellectuals”. But I can’t say that without acknowledging that most of the time I am out of my depth on these kinds of blogs. Be that as it may, I judge better things of you and agree with Jim in that this argument seems to be boiling down to word meanings. I recomend an essay by Elder Oaks called “Reason and Revelation” (perhaps you’ve read it already). It’s found in his book “The Lord’s Way”.

    The main point I get from his essay is that the exercise of reason is critical in the revelatory process but must positioned correctly with respect to revelation.

    E. Oaks suggests that reason ought to have the “first word” thereby serving as a threshold check against spurious revelation and unecessary procedures in the revelatory process. He goes on to say that revelation ought to have the “last word” thus maintaining loyalty to the primacy of revelation.

    Perhaps I’m beating a dead horse. Sorry if I am–just some thoughts.

    PS. shouldn’t your name by “texasfiddler”? Our is adding the word “violinist” to “texas” a manifestation of the intellectual within you? ;>)

  46. texasviolinist
    August 19, 2005 at 10:46 pm

    My father was a university administrator with vaguely intellectual pretensions but no one would have considered him intellectual. He brushed up against the Dialogue set and I think he wanted to feel relevant or at least conversant. We had Dialogue in the house and later Sunstone. It did cause quivers of doubt here and there but, as with Jason (44), Dad was faithful enough in example to allow me to get past the magazines. Mom could not have cared less about any of it but she knew bs like no one else ever did (a gift from her journalist father). She just didn’t have time or truck with yak yak yak…When I was older and visited home and saw the magazines lying around I would pick them up and read them. There were some flashes of scholarship and insight but I was struck more by the pretension that took up most of the space. I don’t think I currently know any Mormon Studies types of any leanings. Of course I know doubters, even very smart ones, but I don’t think any of them read Dialogue etc.

    I often wonder if any of the serious “intellectual” doubters of the Joseph Smith experience and calling have a testimony that Christ is the Son of God. If you can accept Christ, Joseph Smith is easy.

  47. Aaron E
    August 19, 2005 at 11:14 pm

    This reminds me of the William Golding essay where he describes three grades of thought.


    I’ve often meant to write a parallel essay in the LDS context. The problem is that I think I’d end up just like he did, making obvious fun of grades 1 and 2 and then finishing with a vague something or other about grade 3. The extent of Mormon Studies in my life (despite my better intentions to read the books many of you have and have even listed from time to time) is the bloggernacle. I think what I’m really on the lookout for, is grade 3 thinking, if it exists. However, the posts I enjoy the most are the grade 2 posts. Sometimes I think grade 2 thinkers stick around just for the fun of making collective fun of the grade 1 folks and to try and create “aha” moments.

  48. Jeremy
    August 19, 2005 at 11:33 pm

    I often wonder if any of the serious “intellectual” doubters of the Joseph Smith experience and calling have a testimony that Christ is the Son of God.

    I guess the thing that bothers some of us is the close and causal relationship you assert between “intellectual” and “doubter.”

  49. Susan
    August 20, 2005 at 12:02 am

    Being Nate’s apostate mom, I welcome Kristine’s comments in post #27. I remember the first time that I read this post of Nate’s–glad that he occasionally finds me interesting, still trying to figure out what it means to be harmless.

    In my experience “apostasy” (since that is the term Nate uses to describe my status) is much closer to belief than most of the discussion in this thread allows. I know that I see more continuity than discontinuity in my life. At some mysterious point along a path followed in good faith as a believer and a seeker, there was a sea change in the way my heart and soul and head put the world together. Some of my dearest friends on that same path with me experienced the same mysterious sea change. Others didn’t. I’ve always resisted anyone with easy answers to explain why one path and not the other.

  50. texasviolinist
    August 20, 2005 at 12:09 am

    Jeremy, are you running out to see if some stone I throw will hit you? Your comment (48) is a seriously (I mean seriously) strained reading of my post.

  51. Jeremy
    August 20, 2005 at 12:45 am

    TV: what else can one conclude from your assertion [in #37] that “‘faithful intellectual’…is an oxymoron” ?

  52. Mark N.
    August 20, 2005 at 12:48 am

    Nate: Adam-God is one of the things that keeps me in the Church

    The A/G “doctrine” (as BY called it) is one of the things that keeps me in, too. Not because it’s interesting baggage, but because I have come to accept it (or, my understanding of it, which may not be the same as anyone else’s understanding of it) as true.

    If there’s anything that comes close to driving me from the Church, it’s the seeming insistance by the leadership that any insinuation that some portion of A/G just might be correct doctrine (given how well it fits in with doctrines espoused by Joseph Smith and doctrines taught in the temple, IMO) is on the “high road to apostasy”.

  53. Jack
    August 20, 2005 at 1:18 am

    Mark N.

    So it isn’t your acceptance of the AG theory that puts you on the high road to apostasy, but rather the insistance of our leaders that you shouldn’t accept the AG theory, right?

    Sorry, you were wide open for that Mark. ;>)

    Actually, the adam-god theory isn’t a closed book for me either. I’m not saying that I know precisely how it ought to fit in our theology, but on the other hand I can’t dismiss it out-right because of some of the ways it does seem to fit–not to mention BY’s confidence in the theory which is not something to be taken lightly, IMO. That said, I think its only proper that we should tread very carefully with regard to such things. I think the brethren have very good reasons for keeping such “doctrines” at a distance from the church.

  54. Nathan Oman
    August 20, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    I suppose that the discussion has moved on, but frankly Travis Anderson’s remarks really baffle me. I don’t think that the proposition that being an intellectual leads necessarily to apostasy is an explicit or implicit assumption of anything that I have said. Being an intellectual — like being anything else — is a risky business that can lead to lots of different outcomes, some good and some bad. I would consider myself an intellectual (or at least a so-called intellectual) and I don’t see any inconsistency between identifying myself as such and being a faithful and loyal member of the Church. I do think that from time to time intellectuals are prone to make rather extravagant claims about the virtue of the enterprise in which they are engaged. This, it seems to me, is not something peculiar to Mormon intellectuals but rather goes back to Socrates’s identification of goodness with rationality. For the record, Socrates may be right, but even if he is, his claim has led to a certain amount of annoying puffery over the millenia. Clearly, there are people within Mormondom who harbor the beliefs that Travis imputes to me, but happily, I am not one of the Mormons that Travis needs to feel defensive around for being a philosophy professor.

    Mom: Elsewhere you have written about what you have called suspicion of intimate enemies. Calling you harmless is my way of saying that I don’t think that the path you have taken makes you an enemy, intimate or otherwise. Rather, I have in mind Paul’s counsel that the believers are to be subtle but harmless. It strikes me that unbelief (or alternative belief if you wish) can have the same virtue of subtle harmlessness. If it makes you feel better, I think of you as harmless in a very cool, hip, edgy kind of way ;->

    For the record, I fully agree with J. Stapley’s statement that my mom is a fabulous woman. As for J. Stapley’s question, I fear that the answer is probably that I was a jerk, but not because of any special knowledge of Mormonism. I just have jerk-like tendencies, I am affraid.

  55. gst
    August 20, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    Nate, you are an intellectual, nothing “so-called” about it. You’re an appellate lawyer, for crying out loud. If the Khmer Rouge were to come to power in Northern Virginia tomorrow, you would be among the first up against the wall.

  56. texasviolinist
    August 20, 2005 at 2:54 pm

    Paul Johnson, the British historian, wrote a book titled Intellectuals He would characterize the Khmer (in your scenario) as the intellectuals based on their ideological lineage which he traces back to Rousseau. Its a great book and I recommend it to all. Its a sobering take on intellectuals.

  57. gst
    August 20, 2005 at 3:16 pm

    I’m familiar with the book, and no doubt they are intellectuals: no one does anti-intellectualism quite as thoroughly as intellectuals.

  58. Samuel
    August 20, 2005 at 11:41 pm

    Texasviolinist says:

    “If you can accept Christ, Joseph Smith is easy. ”

    Speechless. But then again it speaks volumes. And illustrates why those intellectual apostates exist in the first place.

  59. texasviolinist
    August 21, 2005 at 8:35 pm

    58 is very cryptic. I guess I am not intellectual enough to understand it. But I am smart enough to see how faith, however probed, examined or nuanced is pretty much foolishness to the totally rational. I find it easier to understand men and women who reject the transcendental entirely than to understand people who think that their faith is qualitatively better and more profound and deeper because they discuss their faith with a bigger vocabulary. It seems pathetically silly to me at best. If I can accept the tiniest shred of faith I can accept a huge and encompassing faith — one that acknowledges every bit of Joseph Smith’s experience, calling and legacy. No matter how hard you try you can never get away from golden plates and an angel. Trying to keep some part of the restoration while rejecting the miraculous and supernatural part of the experience is laughable on the face by any rational test.

    I think that a lot of Mormon Studies that removes the barnacles that have been added to Joseph Smith’s experience is good and worthy. More power to those who seek the truth. But I cannot go further. His own testimony of the provenance of The Book of Mormon, his subsequent revelations and the experience of the church are irrefutable and irreducible. I accept it part and parcel.

Comments are closed.