Should I Hang Up My Philosopher’s Robe?

Sister Mendel is a Saint for sure. This fact must be grasped or nothing else I say makes sense. She came from Germany to the United States shortly after WW II with her newly converted husband. She has the remarkable ability to reveal to everyone that they are loved. She is a saint already celestial in character. Of this simple truth there is little doubt. Yet Sister Mendel couldn’t formulate a coherent doctrine on any issue if her life depended on it. She admits that she doesn’t understand doctrine very well and she even admits that she is just not bright regarding that kind of thing.

Yet it dawns on me that if Sister Mendel isn’t eloquent about doctrine, then it probably isn’t at all important in the entire scheme of things. I’m quite certain she’ll enter the celestial kingdom before I will — and yet I am taken with propounding doctrine in a persuasive and inspiring way. I’m a quantum leap better at knowing the scriptures and doctrine than she is. Yet knowing (Latin sapere) the doctrine and truth isn’t important it seems; rather, what is important is knowing (Latin conoscere) God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.

I should have listened to Joe McConkie. I had a religion class from him in which he spent an entire class period berating philosophy and its role in the apostasy. He was aware that I was (at that time) the only philosophy major on campus. At the end of the hour he said: “So brother Ostler, what do you think about that?” I answered: “Well brother McC, that is an interesting philosophy.” You see, everything is philosophy to me. There is no escaping it — at least if you were to live in my skin (aren’t you glad that you don’t?).

When I was young I was convinced that God’s Godness was because of his knowledge of everything. I believed that we could be saved no faster than we gain knowledge of an entire realm of truth. I believed that the glory of God is intelligence — and that includes at least being aware of what I believe and how it aligns with the way things really are.

Now I’m convinced none of that really matters and what matters is a matter of heart. Spending three years as the nursery leader in my ward does that to me I think. I’m quite sure they wanted to isolate me and get me out of any meeting where a discussion about “doctrine” might ensue because … well, because I scare people according the Bishop. Some of the good people in my ward felt intimidated. So they stuck me in the nursery and the intimidation factor went way down. The Bishop and Stake President walked into our nursery on day and said: “See that brother on the floor playing with toys with Grahm cracker stains on his suit? He can read eight languages.” They laughed. (True story). Being made the nursery leader was a good move for both of us. It dawned on me that being able to speak languages wasn’t what qualified me to be nursery leader — since many of the kids couldn’t speak yet.

So should I hang up my philosopher’s robes and concentrate on Grahm crackers and sharing time? If the glory of God is intelligence, shouldn’t I be intelligent enough to get it and forget philosophy and scholarship altogether?

51 comments for “Should I Hang Up My Philosopher’s Robe?

  1. But can one love one’s neighbor without some degree of knowing? And is “love thy neighbor” the only command?

  2. It would seem that even though the Heart trumps the brain, the brain is still necessary. Just because Lucifer had a bad heart and twisted the knowledge he has for evil, doesn’t mean God elected a moron to save us. God elected the most intelligent spirit in his realm to save us…because he had the capacity to do so. I moron would not have.

  3. Blake: As I recall philosophy has its origin in wonder and liesure. Thales cornered the olive oil market, made a pile of money, and needed something to do with his time. Since then, some have made some rather strident claims about the beneficial effects of philosophy on the soul. Perhaps there is some truth to this, but it is worth remembering that ultimately philosophy may be more about the joy one finds in wonder as much as anything else. In this sense, I think it is very much like the experience that my son has in digging up earth worms in our garden, and I suspect that its value and dignity are comparable.

    For what it is worth, I consider helping my son to dig up earth worms one of the most important things that I do with my life.

  4. Thanks, Brother Osler. Sister Mendel reminds me, to some extent, of my mother. She’s not a gospel scholar, but does study the gospel and certainly understands how to live it.

    I like the “mind and heart” phrases in the Doctrine and Covenants, especially regarding how the Holy Ghost communicates to us. It seems that God wants us to be multi-dimensional to the extent that we are capable. I think President Kimball talked about spiritual and secular knowledge and explained that it’s not a matter of one or the other, but of sequence. It seems that the case of Joseph Smith should be enough to teach us that a humble, faithful person can indeed increase greatly in spiritual and intellectual capacity. It doesn’t work the other way around for a proud intellect. There does seem to be hope for the humble intellect, as I have observed in some very faithful converts to Christianity and to the LDS church.

  5. Yes, perhaps knowledge and wisdom are not given for the sake of verbal bludgeonings in Gospel Doctrine class. Your post raises an issue I think most everyone here needs to consider (I say most because surely there must be some few illiterati tucked in amongst the snobbish horde who read here). Even though a few have already confirmed here that other things should come before matters of the mind, I just KNOW that I and many of you are going to get on somebody’s back this week in Sunday school for misrepresenting the scriptures or church doctrine (or at least think about it and relish the thought).

    Save us, oh Lord–we who are too big for our own britches.

  6. Blake: Perhaps people really aren’t intimidated by you, and they simply needed people to staff the nursery. The comments about reading X number of languages may have been less and expression of intimidated anxiety, and more an attempt at kindly flattery and acknowledgement of talents.

  7. Blake, my vote is that you not hang up your robes. The church needs philosophers, but heaven help us if we all become philosophical.

  8. Blake, it’s an excellent point you make. It cannot possibly be the case that God would intend everyone (almost surely anyone) to come to a knowledge and appreciation of gospel truths in an analytical, intellectual way. There are two manifest reasons for this: First, not everyone (or anyone) is capable as you point out; and second, the evidence is simply not available, and the availability of what evidence there is has not been uniform over time.

    And yet the claim is that the way one gets the heart right is through sanctification by the Holy Ghost, which comes through covenants and ordinances administered by a particular authority espousing particular doctrine. Because these claims make some contact with the “real world”, there is the possibility of testability or falsifiability. It is usually much easier to prove something false than to prove it is true. Hence those with the capability may feel inclined to the falsifiability task, as a way of verifying one is not being led incorrectly in the matter of getting the heart right. But I think that trying to affirmatively prove it correct intellectually is hopeless, and possibly blasphemous. (In this let me be clear I’m not talking about appreciation in Nate’s sense, but truly strong apologist claims.)

  9. This post belongs to a genre that I have noticed during my time lurking at T&S: academic self-hatred. Now and then, someone with advanced university training–usually in the humanities–will type out several paragraphs of careful soul searching about the ability to blend their schooling with their faith. These posts have been uniformly well written and provocative, so please don’t see too much vitriol in my response to this meme.

    I don’t care. I know that God loves me even though I’m a left intellectual with a PhD in Literature. Consider this passage from 1 Corinthians 12:

    12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.


    15 If the foot shall say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body?

    People with advanced degrees can be part of the body of Christ. Stop worrying. Embrace yourself, because Jesus is waiting to do just that. Love yourself, because you can’t love all the Brother and Sister Holdfasts that go to church with you unless you do. Yes, people who have simple testimonies and little else are inspirational, but so is someone who has gone through six+ years of grad school at a serious secular university and has managed to keep the faith. We have something to add that others can’t. I’ve countersigned temple reccommends with the same hand that wrote my dissertation, and no lightning came down from the sky.

  10. “Love yourself, because you can’t love all the Brother and Sister Holdfasts that go to church with you unless you do.”

    I sincerely doubt that this is true. There is not a single scriptural injuction of which I am aware that says “Love thyself.”

  11. Nate,

    Not “Love thy neighbor as thyself”? That’s a two-part injunction.

    I agree with Boris anyway. Back when I was in law school (tewnty years ago, so may be dated), I was told of a study the Church had done exploring the relationship between education and activity. The results were generally that activity rate increased as education level did. It does not surprise me when I see the education level of the Quorum of the 12.

  12. Alamojag,
    Thanks for getting the correct order of the “…”? in your #13 before the Grammar Cop could react to my #12!

  13. I recall that scripture talking about the “noble and great ones” in Heaven. Which seems to imply that God’s spirit children were not all equal in capacity.

    However, the scriptures don’t seem to attach any real moral significance to being “noble and great.” Neither do the scriptures define these qualities.

    However, we do know that Satan was numbered among this supposed elite. So capacity of spirit does not seem to have any real determinative link to salvation. Everyone apparently gets the same opportunity to accept or reject God. Everyone gets an equal shot at salvation.

    RE-Original Post: I had a similar problem in Sunday School. Things improved when I started limiting myself to one or two comments per class.

  14. Mark wrote: What about ?Love thy neighbor as thyself??

    I hope Jim F. doesn’t mind me referring you to his excellent analysis that changed the way I read that verse. Here are his introductory remarks:

    “Some defend the claim that self-love is necessary if we are to love others by referring to part of Leviticus 19:18: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” After all, this scripture has been repeated by Christ several times, and it seems to refer to the necessity of self-love. But it is not clear that it does. In the first place, the scripture assumes that those to whom it is addressed love themselves, but it doesn’t command them to do so. The logic of the language in this verse looks like this: If a person says, “Do this as John does,” that person has implied that John does whatever it is that is under discussion, and he or she has commanded you to do it, but the person has not commanded John to do it or even approved of John doing it.”

    Read the whole thing here:

  15. “Not “Love thy neighbor as thyself”? That’s a two-part injunction.”

    This is a trendy idea in the church today that I tend to be a little suspicious of.

    You need to consider Christ’s words in context of his audience.
    The self-esteem movement is a REALLY recent innovation (started back in the 1980s and 70s). I think Christ was assuming that every person loves himself/herself. Even self-hatred is still very self-centered. I think most of his listeners were operating under the same assumption.

    The statement was a call to love your neighbors. I don’t think it had anything to do with loving the self. That was just assumed in the ancient world.

    From a practical standpoint as well, I find the statement to “love yourself” to be almost utterly worthless in most contexts. Self-loathing is most effectively countered by extending our spirit to other people (read: service). Pondering your own self-worth in your closet will get you absolutely nowhere.

  16. There is also the injuction “Whosoever shall lose his life…” etc. etc. Doesn’t sound much like self-love to me.

  17. Seth Rogers: However, the scriptures don’t seem to attach any real moral significance to being “noble and great.”

    It would seem, however, that the Lord defines himself in terms of intelligence (whatever that means), which would consequently have moral repercussions.

  18. Boris’s comment about the body of Christ cannot be overstated. As much as we admire the Sister Mendels, could the Church, or even the universe for that matter, function if it were comprised of only Sister Mendels?

    I don’t see any way around it. In the long run charity is no substitute for intellect, and intellect is no substitute for charity. I suspect that to be exalted Sister Mendel will someday (probably in the next life) have to become an intellectual of sorts. So too will the philosopher/intellectual have to develop perfect charity. If we consider philosophy as the love of wisdom, I can’t imagine any gospel rationale for abandoning it.

    Blake, if you do give up philosophy, don’t do it until you’ve finished the “Exploring Mormon Thought” series.

  19. We probably ought to agree on what “loving thyself” means. Which self, or at least which parts of self, are we talking about? (Uh, oh… Maybe we do need philosophers after all…)

    Does anyone believe Jesus was a self-loathing person during his time on earth? Did he like himself? Did he love himself? If so, then what manner of self-lovers ought we to be? Even as he was, right?

    I find that the better I do at keeping my promises to God the better I like myself. Is that correlation or causation, you may ask. I suspect it is both. And if so, then Jesus (as the best of all at keeping sacred promises) liked/loved himself tremendously.

  20. To make explicit the thought behind my comment above (no. 2):

    Mark 12-29-31 reads: “The first of all the commandments is … thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”

    Loving God with all one’s mind must include seeking to understand him and his creation. The senses He gave us to experience the world, the capacity for language, the capacity to reason—the tools underlying not only philosophy but all knowledge—are gifts that we must use as wisely as possible. For some (but probably not all or even most), I believe that this means pursuing philosophy in this life.

  21. Jesus loved God, and He loved us. I doubt he spent a lot of energy toward loving Himself. Christlike “love of self” is conditioned on serving others. I personally wouldn’t bother with trying to love myself. Love of God and others seems like a more productive line of thought.

  22. Geoff Johnston wrote: “Does anyone believe Jesus was a self-loathing person during his time on earth? Did he like himself? Did he love himself? If so, then what manner of self-lovers ought we to be? Even as he was, right?”

    It seems you’re accepting a false dichotomy of either self-love or self-loathing. A third possibility may be an absence of self-regard and a focus solely toward God and others. Check out Jim’s paper (linked to above) for a scriptural argument for this.

  23. Blake, you need to keep the robe.

    Being schooled in philosophy may not be important for *you*, as Sister Mendel’s example and your nursery experience suggest. But it is important for *others*.

    There are a lot of bright people in the Church. And bright people naturally see contradictions and infelicities that Sister Mendel does not see. If there were *no one* out there to help these bright folk see those things in new ways, it would be very easy for these bright folk to lose faith and leave the Church (and religion altogether).

    I have independently seen many of the contradictions and infelicities you have written about over the years. If you did not exist, George Bailey-like, to write your thoughtful analyses of these issues, there is a very good chance that I would have lost faith years ago.

    Your theological philosophy work isn’t just for your own edification. It is a consecration of your talents to the Church. And while most people in the Church don’t see these issues and therefore don’t need your work, there is a substantial minority (such as the kinds of folks that post here) who do. At least, I know I do.

  24. Great post. I’ve often struggled with finding a balance between the maxim “an unexamined life is not worth living” and “ignorance is bliss”.

    I have a tendency to overanalyze everything, so I have to keep reminding myself that rational thought and careful planning aren’t the only methods to understanding and organizing our lives (or in explaining our spirituality). In fact, if you think about it, “rational” thought can be the least helpful in making important, life-changing decisions about whom to marry, how many children to bring into the world, which religion to join, etc., etc.

    I think it’s important to recognize the limits of rational thought and philosophy to explain the world around us and our own desires and motivations. I think Sister Mendel is onto something here, but then sometimes I wonder whether people who are completely oblivious to Mormon doctrine might be just as happy in any other religion centered on Christ, the family, and serving others.

  25. Blake, I’ve loved ya for your writing and I’m looking forward to your guest posts on T&S, but now I love ya even more for your words on Sister Mendel.

    Here’s my notebook by the computer, and here is the page where I wrote after September 30th “The essential quality of God is as a maker of Godly relationships,” which was my takeaway from your essay online on the nature of the Godhead. This was the piece I needed, and it arrived just in time, just at the right time, for the growing difficulty I was having about my fellow saints speaking of Jesus and the Father in a way that was too separate and independent for me, but I did not have the words to explain what I meant by that, and I was beginning to think i would be much happier erring on the trinity side of understanding the Godhead.

    Sister Mendel could not have so effectively helped me with that.

    Most everyone in my immediate family has no ability to have these Berean hang-ups. They’re going to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and I have sometimes thought I need to just do it the way they do. But don’t you hang up your robes. I might need you again later.

  26. Greg: It seems you’re accepting a false dichotomy of either self-love or self-loathing. A third possibility may be an absence of self-regard and a focus solely toward God and others.

    I can buy the original comment by Nate that we are not commanded specifically to love ourselves. However, I do think self love is an inevitable result of righteousness (not a pre-cursor as many today would have it.) I certainly don’t think self love is a bad thing to attain. Rather I imagine it is one those “best gifts” we are commanded to seek out.

    It seems to me that an “absence of self regard” you appear to be endorsing requires an absence of self evaluation. I’m not sure absence of self-regard is even possible for functioning human beings. We all (including Jesus) inevitably evaluate ourselves and make judgments on ourselves. As Joseph made clear in the JST, God only condemns unrighteous judgments. So we need to judge others and ourselves righteously. As a result of that judgment of self, we then place ourselves somewhere on a continuum of total self-approval of to total disapproval of self. That same continuum could also be seen as a love-hate continuum. So if self approval is self love, then Jesus loved himself (and did not have an absence of self-regard) and we ought to do as he did so we can love ourselves too. (Every blessing has a law attached and all).

  27. Johnna! It is good to see your name. Are you guys still in Palo Alto or have you moved on?

  28. Elizabeth, #27
    You’re looking for
    a balance between the maxim “an unexamined life is not worth living” and “ignorance is bliss”.

    How about: Even if an unexamined life is not worth living, it is still bliss if you don’t know it.

    I’m sure one of the wiser intellects here could craft that into a concise and pithy phrase.

  29. Zerin –

    That’s a good one! Honestly, though – I really do wish that I could go back to the blissful state of pre-consciousness. Surely ignorance is preferable to having the responsibility to sort through all the craziness in this world to find the Truth.

    But I guess that was what all the fuss in the Garden of Eden with the serpent and the tree was about.

  30. Zorin (no. 31), how about:

    “The unexamined life, though not worth living, is bliss to the ignorant.”

    (So I am not one of the wiser intellects here. Big deal. Atleast I am happy!)

  31. 1. Where must is given, much is expected. If you have more power to explicate doctrine than Sister Mendell, isn’t more expected of you in this area?

    2. If neglected your gifts, would you not be held under condemnation just as the man who buried his talent was chastisted for not multiplying the gift from his master?

  32. Blake,

    Thanks for this beautiful observation. But I vote NO on hanging up your philosopher robes. There should be no shame in obtaining education and if intellect is combined with spiritual awareness there is no end to the knowledge one can gain.

    I’m reminded of times past when I used to punish myself on the commute home by listening to “The Bible Answer” man. A good portion of his show is spent bashing Mormons. I especially remember his counsel that we shouldn’t trust the feelings in our hearts, as the Mormon sometimes cites as the basis for his testimony, but rather we should rely on our intellect. I’ve always believe that advice to be hogwash and your essay has proven me right.

    It’s funny where we sometmes get our inspiration from but while watching a romantic comedy a few years ago it became clear to me that loving someone else is far greater than being loved. I mean that, not just from a doctrinal standpoint, but actually from the perspective of human emotion Spending our lives trying to please others to get their love in return is not nearly as satisfying as loving someone unconditionally. That seems to be the message that the Lord has always taught us and I’m finally glad I figured it out. Now if can just put that to practice.

  33. Geoff (#29),

    I did not mean “self-regard” as a synonym for introspection, or self-awareness. I was referring more to being concerned about one’s self-image — whether good or bad — which has become almost inescapable in our world. I think we can be aware of and hold ourselves accountable for our thoughts and actions without placing ourselves on a continuum between loving and hating our selves.

  34. I appreciate many of the thoughts shared, especially those of Greg and Nate on Jim F’s words regarding loving self (or the lack of scriptural command to do so).

    I am no fan of the “self esteem” movement. Clearly, based on the collected experience of many, I can conclude that keeping God’s commandments (which is what we do if we love Him) results in inner peace. Inner peace, or knowing that one is acceptable before the Lord, is a greater reward that transcends “learning to love myself.”

    Thanks again to many of you for expressing your thoughts.

  35. Okay, this is probably unrelated, but some of the posts here reminded me of one of my favorite poems called “Once in a Saintly Passion”:

    ONCE in a saintly passion
    I cried with desperate grief,
    “O Lord, my heart is black with guile,
    Of sinners I am chief.”
    Then stooped my guardian angel
    And whispered from behind,
    “Vanity, my little man,
    You’re nothing of the kind.”

    James Thomson

    Hope you all enjoy the irony of this poem as much as I do.

  36. #30, Frank,
    Still here, and we miss you guys! I’m sending you an email care of the university.

  37. I think what attracted me to Hugn Nibley, first was his apparent understanding of things in the Book of Mormon, particularly, about which I had no clue. His ability to read between the lines and see things that I would never have noticed was a wonder.

    But Nibley’s heart is what is on display in “Approaching Zion”. It’s doctrinal, all right, but it’s all based on the doctrine of being of one heart and one mind, of loving each other for who we are, and what we can bring to the table as we all come together in an attempt to build a Zion that might be worthy of the name. Of course, a lot of people look at “AZ” and call him a left-wing nutcase as a result. But if I could only keep one Nibley volume, it would be “AZ”, and all of the doctrinal BofM nuggets in the other volumes I would gladly let go.

  38. #18 Seth:

    “From a practical standpoint as well, I find the statement to “love yourself” to be almost utterly worthless in most contexts.”

    Forgive me for addressing this topic with so much emotion. I totally disagree with the idea that to love one’s self is inimical to the idea of loving your neighbor. If Christianity is thought of as the fulfillment of self-annihilation, there doesn’t seem to be much moral justification for “breaching” one’s eternal vows of matrimony for the simple sake of “one’s self”.

    Forgive me for making this personal, but I have been the victim of spousal abuse for over a year and a half. I have been married a little over 2 years; tomorrow I will sign the divorce papers. This idea that “one’s self’ is not important, or only important if that person is serving others, is dangerous.

    Trying to be a “faithful” LDS, I truly believed my happiness was not as important as serving my closet “neighbor,” my wife. I kept reminding myself that the problems of the finite would be resolved in the infinite. It has been a struggle to learn that I truly do have self-worth, which is independent of serving others. This realization was the only thing that got me out of a very sad situation.

    Again, I am sorry to make this personal, but if anyone is going through the same situation: you do have self-worth, and your happiness is important to God.

  39. Though I often disagree with Blake on philosophical/theological issues, I think he ought to keep his philosopher’s robe. Just don’t wear it at Church. I would say this even if Blake were a philosopher I agreed with in all respects. Most philosophical issues, especially at the level where Blake works, don’t help much at church, and may actually lead us away from the kind of knowing the Lord and knowing each other that are essential (the kind of things Blake mentions in his post).

    At Church I’ve very rarely found it desirable to quote a philosopher or theologian I like, even when certain things they say may be germain to a particular conversation. I can usually find something similar to say from the scriptures or one of our own leaders or in language that will be helpful and meaningful to my fellow saints.

    Please note that I’m not advocating that we turn off our minds. One can think, think deeply, think religiously, think about what some aspect of the gospel means to an individual, family, ward, etc., without having to think philosophically (though this may be unavoidable here and there). And while there may be times when philosophy may help in Church settings, I’ve honestly found these rare.

    I also note that what Blake has done in this post is also a use of thinking that Kierkegaard advocated–using philosophy/reflection to expose ways in which the philosophical turn may be avoiding the real issues, the demands of Christian living. A clever person, Kierkegaard thought, might often use cleverness to avoid the issues of Christian living. But he also thought one might use cleverness to track down and uncover all those little ways we use cleverness to justify ourselves in avoid the truth and not following the Exemplar like we ought.

  40. James(#39), thanks for posting that poem. That is one of my favorites from years back, and I have been unable to locate its source.

    John (#42), thank you for sharing your very personal story. Part of the problem, as I see it, with the whole definition of “self-love” is the confusion of it with the “self-esteem” movemen, which is little more than an obession with self. We are to be the best we can be, and I find it difficult to imagine being the salt of the earth or a light on a candlestick unless we understand who we really are. The salt is to be savored, not “cast out and trodden under foot of men.” The Lord wants us to shine–but He wants us to remember to pass the glory back to the Father, just as He did.

    Blake, as several posters have mentioned, we are told to love the Lord with our heart, might, mind, and strength. Each of us has greater capacity in each of those areas. Yours is to love Him with your mind, Sister Mendel’s is to love with her heart. It seems that as long as we are doing the best we can in each of those areas, we are keeping that commandment.

  41. #42 John,

    I don’t mind you making it personal.

    But I think you’re drawing conclusions from my statements that I deliberately declined to make myself.

  42. It’s usually those who don’t enjoy or understand philosophy who believe it is opposed to the gospel. The assumption is, I believe, that ALL the gospel is true and ALL of philosophy is false, neither is which is correct. We certainly do not have a corner on truth, and many wise men have seen the truth and made wonderful gospel-like observations. I use these to supplement my lessons – “Happiness is a working of the soul in the ways of excellence and virtue.”

    I used this in a deacon’s class and got chewed out by the bishop’s counselor. Unfortunately, he has left the Church and all those deacons are still active. Maybe those who fear philosophy may really fear anything that isn’t spoon-fed from the scriptures and brethren. And because I do believe that all men by nature desire to know, our teaching one another is the best way to share both love and truth.

    I love Brigham Young’s admonition – “Think brethren, but don’t think so far that you can’t think your way back. “

  43. #45 “But I think you’re drawing conclusions from my statements that I deliberately declined to make myself.”

    Hmm. Maybe you could help me out? If you start out with premises like these:

    1. From a practical standpoint as well, I find the statement to “love yourself” to
    be almost utterly worthless in most contexts.

    2. Pondering your own self-worth in your closet will get you absolutely

    What would be your moral justification of leaving an abusive “eternal” marriage?

  44. With respect to self-love, I believe that it has a vital place in the gospel. That place is called out in John’s post in #42. The problem is that self-love is not what we think it is. It isn’t self-absorbed love. It isn’t even merely reflexive self-love. Rather, it is other oriented love reoriented to the self and back again. Kierkeagaard writes profoundly regarding self-love in his Works of Love — and rather than summarize it I would urge y’all to read/experience Kierkeaard’s beautiful expression. It is a difficult matter to write about love and self-love in a way that doesn’t triviliaze it.

    A part of the self-love issue is knowing that I am worthy of love just the way I am. In a word, it is the doctrine or experience of grace — a sheer gift of being loved and valued for just being me and knowing that I am valued in this intensly personal and meaningful sense. It is also awareness that I have gifts to give that no one else in the universe can give. I have these gifts to give uniquely not because I am great or more gifted than others, but just because I am me and no one else can give the gifts that are mine. One of these gifts is the gift of my love — and knowing that I have this gift to give is a way of knowing that I have something of incommensurate value to give — and so do you. I also give a gift in receiving your gifts.

    Self-love is also, as John reminds us in #42, to be committed to my life and my well-being in such a way that I do not allow others to do things to me that detract from my sacred value — if I can help it. It means that I hold myself in such regard and respect that I am the being of light and love that I am and I will not allow others to demean me. It also means that I am committed to my eternal happiness and well-being and there is nothing other-unloving in so doing because my happiness is precisely to be in intimate and fulfilling committed relationship. So my best interest is realized in loving you. That is why self love, properly viewed, is always also other love. To love others is to love myself. To love myself is to love others. These are the same activity of the heart.

    Now it is important to realize that there is a pernicious and bastardized version of self-love that takes love as a self-absorbed way of being. That is not really self-love but self-betrayal, self-deception and self-defeating.

  45. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the balance between reason and faith, so this is fresh on my mind.

    You’re right that God’s glory *is* intelligence. But just what *is* intelligence? D&C 93:36 states that intelligence is “light and truth,” and verse 37 goes on to say that “light and truth forsake that evil one.”

    I love an alternate definition of intelligence that I heard on my mission: the application of knowledge for the forces of good. It’s absolutely compatible with the verses above. For instance, Satan could easily be considered one of the most *knowledgeable* beings on the planet today, but based on this definition would be utterly devoid of intelligence. Furthermore, the quest for knowledge is a God-given assignment (D&C 88:79). You said intelligence “includes at least being aware of what I believe and how it aligns with the way things really are.” That’s certainly part of it, but this expanded definition of intelligence links knowledge to its application, so I suggest that God’s way is learning harnessed to a faith in and love for him.

    Me, I would say you’re right both when you say that part of what makes him God is a perfect knowledge of all things, and that what matters most is love (Matthew 22:37-39)–what Stephen Robinson calls “the prime directive.”

    Another thought. Moses 1:39 says that God’s work and glory is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” I used to think this was just another definition or perspective. But I now believe there is no difference between these definitions–that the ultimate application of learning is ultimately for salvation in God’s kingdom.

    So I hope you don’t abandon your quest for knowledge and learning. Harnessed to your new appreciation for the power of a simple faith in God, I believe it may be a powerful force not only in your life, but the lives of your family and loved ones.

  46. “to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.”

    Knowledge in the Scriptural sense is usually not the Eastern type academic knowledge, its the experiential knowledge. To love God is to know God by experience, by doing good works and doing His will. If someone were to get a PhD in Theology and deliberately sin the whole time, all they have done is wasted a lot of time for a piece of paper and they do not know God.

    ” If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine”

    In order to know the doctrine, one absolutely must live it. Academic learning without practical experience is pointless. It would be like getting a PhD in Engineering and then spending the rest of your life rounding up shopping carts and pumping gas. You have the ideas in your head, but your hands are doing nothing about it. Its the same with the gospel. If you study it, you must do it to truely understand its ability to transform people’s lives. Merely collecting obscure bits of knowledge in the head is not going to get anyone anywhere. Spiritual knowledge is not only an intellectual ascent, it is experience doing what the Lord tells us to do.

    Since the gospel is a means of transforming people’s lives, people cannot just think about doing it, they actually have to do it to understand it.

    Should you hang up your philosopher’s robes? Only if you need to put on a pair of overalls to help your neighbor haul hay.

  47. Hello Blake,

    As one of the little people of the Church, I would encourgage you to continue just the way you are. You have been given a gift. To turn your back on it or refuse to enlarge upon it would be wrong. It would be analogues to refuseing to accept the gift of grace, that in my opinion, based on what I have read of your works, you have accepted. So, I would like to make a suggestion.

    Perhaps you could use your gift of painstaking ability to study and write about things, to write a book on grace that would take it to a level not before seen in the Church. Maybe a cross between Augustine, Aquinas, Brennan Manning, Philip Yancey, Robinson, and Millet. I would certainly buy it. And if it is as good as I think you could make it, I am sure I would buy many copies to give away. Of course, I do not think I would be the only one to buy it. I understand that “Believing Christ” has been one of the best selling books in the Church. As Yancey says, people are starving for grace.

    Anyway, just a thought.

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