It seems to me that there are academic issues that saints sometimes have difficulties with and that they might be helped if they had “answers� to those questions from LDS academics who have thought about the problems. I can imagine a student in university who hears about a particular hot topic in the academy and doesn’t yet have tools for thinking about it from an LDS perspective.

I’m thinking about gathering short, well-written, readable pieces by LDS academics that discuss some of those issues, at least sometimes from more than one point of view. Some of the issues are obvious, such as evolution. It used to be something that faculty and students argued about at BYU, but that argument has pretty much disappeared. A variety of reasons explain that disappearance, but foremost among them, I think, is that more and more on both sides of the debate have learned how to talk about their views in both informed, interesting, and respectful ways. The issue is no longer much of an issue among the faculty, and I suspect that means it isn’t much of an issue among students either. In contrast, same-sex attraction continues to be a difficult issue for everyone: even if we know what our position on that question is, we rarely know how to talk about it well and, so, we rarely know how to explain what we think.

What are some of the issues for which it would be useful to students and parents to have LDS reading materials?

NOTE: Some of the discussion may turn into discussions of the issues in question. That’s fine with me assuming that the discussions remain civil, but I hope that even when that happens people will want to make suggestions about which issues can cause saints the most difficulties. That is the real topic of the thread.

22 comments for “Fishing

  1. This would be a great project, Jim, we need an Encyclopedia of Mormon Apologetics. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there’s already a website that has a topical listing of apologetic answers for every conceivable subject. If there’s not, the T&S community should create one.

  2. Jim, we’ve talked before about the dangers that the Saints (particularly the young ones) have of turning every statement by BYU or CES type into an Official Proclamation of the Mind and Will of the Divine. I’m wondering what steps you would take to prevent this in the project that you are proposing.

  3. Oh, as for topics, what I hear from my Institute students: birth control, presiding, SSM, evolution (yes, still), feminism in general, BoM historicity. I’m not quite sure how to phrase this one, but a General Distrust of Religion and Religious Leaders among college professors.

  4. Let’s not forget the obvious:

    1. Blacks and the Priesthood (Why God would sanction racial restrictions in his restored, post-New Testament Church).

    2. Polygamy (So many issues spring from this one …)

    Aaron B

  5. Perhaps such a project could choose a particular topic and then make a point of having essays that offer different perspectives, so that it can be shown that Mormon perspectives on many controversial issues are actually a spectrum of ideas, rather than a single “right” answer.

  6. 8. The creation, the Big Bang, the age of the earth and of the universe (yes, still).

    9. How about a general framework for resolving apparent tensions between science and theology, which is what most of these issues come down to? I also second (7).

  7. Deconstruction and Literary Criticism

    The Documentary Hypothesis—- in my opinion there is absolutely no good LDS scholarship done on this issue. For some reason we think it is irrelevant to our interest in the scriptures and so we dismiss it. Sadly, this disregard leaves BYU students unprepared for graduate studies in Bible. The new commentary that is underway at BYU will hopefully begin to address this problem. But, I think a general essay on the place of scripture in the academy would be important in this kind of volume.

    Feminism—-is feminism just plain antithetical to the Gospel? I have a lot to say here but for lack of time I’ll summarize by saying that one looks around at active LDS scholars and finds few who self-identify as feminist. I know there are LDS women who do so (I’m one of them) but I mean publishing professors. Beyond self-identification, there are very few who haven’t been excommunicated, who are actually doing work influenced by feminist theory. This leaves the distinct impression that you should avoid the F word unless you want to be excommunicated. I think there are other alternatives but I think they require care and caution.

    I second the votes for:

    Same-Sex Marriage
    Blacks and the Priesthood

    Also, perhaps an entry on the place of Latter-day Saints in the public square would be in order. The intersection of religion and politics is a really big debate right now in departments of religion and among some political philosophers. Surprisingly the Church is relevant in the debate. We have managed at least to make the index of almost every major book I’ve read on this for my exams.

  8. I second Aaron B.’s suggestions. My wife and I had a long discussion about polygamy last night, bemoaning the relative lack of intelligent discussion on the topic, leaving books like Krakauer’s to fill the void.

  9. Reading my post, I realize that I’ve unwittingly cast asperions on Mr. Krakauer’s intelligence. While I don’t necessarily agree with his opinions, I would not call him unintelligent.

  10. Bryce,

    In defense of your first comment, I think that we can distinguish between a person’s intelligence, which may be in full bloom, and his lack of intelligent contribution to a discussion.

    I saw some of Bill Maher on Larry King last night. I don’t doubt that Bill is intelligent. On the other hand, I don’t think that his summary dismissal of all religious thought as unworthy of consideration by intelligent people contributes to an intelligent discussion of the matter.

  11. Potential Topics:

    1. PoMo Theory
    2. Culture and the gospel.
    3. Historiography and claims of truth.
    4. Standards of truth. (Is there a difference in the standard(s) of truth found in the various domains of the academy and the Church? might be a good starter question)

    A discussion of bias and assumptions could be attempted here too. I am just afraid too many students, member and non-member alike go to college and accept what their professors, especially in the non-hard Science disciplines, at face value as truth.

  12. I second danithew’s recommendation (and Jim’s initial idea) that multiple perspectives be presented to address Julie’s concern that people overzealously infer a divine stamp on quack theories written by BYU or CES instructors.

    As for other perennially problematic issues, we need some help with:

    – Prophets Are Prophets When They Are Prophets
    – God’s Involvement in the Natural World
    – God’s Involvement in Human Affairs

  13. For Matt:

    There is a Topical Guide of apologetic materials at the FAIR website (; I believe there is a link to the site on the T&S links list). Go to the site, and on the left is a Topical Guide button. There you will find a listing of about 50 topics; click on one, and you will find Ensign articles, Encyclopedia of Mormonism articles, other material from the internet, and some original essays. This isn’t exactly what Jim had in mind, but it seems to fit the bill of what you were looking for.

    For Melissa:

    I’m curious what you think of my Dialogue article on the Documentary Hypothesis. A scanned version (with the normal scanning mistakes) is available here:

    I am of course just an amateur, and the article is not meant to advance the ball of general scholarship.. But I’ve heard from LDS grad students in the field who have told me that the article assisted them greatly in dealing with the hypothesis from an LDS perspective,. I personally think Latter-day Saints tend to be needlessly defensive on this topic.

    While I’m thinking of it, another topic I’ve written on for Dialogue that might be appropriate for Jim’s list is the JST. My experience is that virtually every lay member of the Church simply assumes that the JST is nothing less than in every single instance a textual restoration of material that once existed in the original manuscript. This is not a defensible position. Yet we make no effort as a Church to teach our people a more nuanced approach to it. If you wait until someone figures out for himself that it is not a pure textual restoration, and *then* try to trot out the Matthews list of various things that could be going on in the text, it is often going to be too late. Bright young people need to be taught a more textured understanding of the JST than is currently common in Church classrooms. IMO.

  14. These are great suggestions. Thanks very much–and keep them coming. As Matt Evans noted, I have all along assumed that many of the subjects would require more than one essay from more than one point of view: the more controversial the topic the more likely that there would such a need.

  15. Kevin,

    I remember reading your Dialogue article on the DH when it first appeared, and enjoying it immensely. Liked your JST stuff too (if I’m not confusing your stuff with someone else’s).

    I will definitely purchase Jim F.’s volume when he puts it together.

    Aaron B

  16. Virtually every semester that I teach, someone asks “If God knew such and such, why did he call so and so, or let something or another happen?” or “If God knows, doesn’t that make us set in what we will be?” As you know, this is an issue of some controversy among LDS philosophers, but I find that regular, everyday members come up with this question frequently. Something on foreknowledge and freedom would be good.

  17. God’s foreknowledge is difficult to grasp, even though we know that it “rains on the just and the unjust.” More than once, I have heard a woman who encounters a tragedy say, “Why didn’t they tell me this in my laurel class?” The comment is usually meant to express the feelings of frustration when you keep all the commadments, but discover that life is still terribly difficult.

    A discussion of mental illness would also be useful, and is often connected to this first topic. Tragedy often sows seeds of distrust of God, and hopelessness, and if one turns toward them it is easy to be engulfed.

  18. I too would be interested in a broader evaluation of mental illness, though I think it would be difficult to address in the fashion Jim F. has envisioned.

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