Posts Tagged ‘Intellectuals’
I’ve been reading the arguments on MormonThink.com off and on for several years now. I have a lot of respect for the individuals behind the site, even though most of them choose to be anonymous. I am confident that I have been visited by several of the contributors there or at least by those who read their site and others like it such as Ex Mormon and Post Mormon.
I am by no means a scholar or intellectual. I think I’m pretty smart and that I’m pretty good with logic. After all, I have made a living for thirty years demystifying computers for others. But I know there are a lot of people out there who are smarter than I am and who have the academic credentials to prove it. I like to think that I’m just a regular, average, typical Latter-day Saint.
I like smart, thinking people and especially people who present logical conclusions well, either in writing or verbally. Critical thinking is a skill that I am constantly striving to improve. I confess that I am impressed when someone can speak or write with confidence, especially when it comes to doctrines and practices of the church. That’s why I continue to take college classes each year.
Choosing to believe
But I’d like to take exception with one of the common threads I find in the essays on sites like MormonThink.com. It has to do with choosing to believe. The concept of voluntary or involuntary belief has been discussed by philosophers for millennia. But it’s such a basic part of how I deal with the sort of intellectual issues on Mormon Think that I want to share it with you.
I disagree with those who contend that beliefs are not voluntary acts of will. There is no doubt in my mind that I am a voluntarist when it comes to my beliefs about the church and our history. This is especially true in light of, or in spite of all the fascinating historical facts that I have read over the years that are just not taught to or even known by the majority of the Latter-day Saints.
Invariably I have found that those who label themselves atheists also claim to be involuntarists. I am coming to the conclusion that those who embrace the title of Ex Mormon, Post Mormon or Former Mormon also see their position as involuntary. “It was inevitable,” they say, “based on what I have learned, I had no other choice but to now disbelieve what I had formally believed.”
Well, that’s where we differ. I have spent many years studying the same material that has been so troubling and bothersome to so many of my fellow seekers of knowledge. I can honestly say that my faith has been strengthened and my belief deepened that Joseph was who he claimed to be – a prophet of God – and that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be – Holy Scripture.
I have no doubt that there are many in the church, who, if they studied the same material we have written about on our blogs and websites, would be absolutely freaked out and would soon leave the church. They are either social Mormons only or are not strong in their desire to know more about the history of our church. I don’t think these kinds of people are your typical Mormons.
What’s missing from sites like MormonThink.com, and what you’ll find in abundance on the official church web sites, is the role of faith, and especially encouraging faith. There is way too much emphasis on the intellect and not enough focus on feelings. The section on Testimony and Spiritual Witness relegates the role of feelings of faith as something to be dissected and derided.
Announcing new website
That’s reason why I decided to start my own website, LatterdayCommentary.com. This blog is hosted on that domain, which I registered years ago. It’s not much to look at today. In fact, I almost consider it a prototype. I’ve put together some commentary and links to my essays on some of the same subjects that you will find on MormonThink.com. It will grow with time.
I know that I’m just one of thousands of LDS members who have a website where they share their beliefs and testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I like to think that I’m not much different from your average Mormon. I grew up as a member of the church but I come from a convert family. And my viewpoint is definitely that of a laid-back California boy.
I’ve been happy as a member of the LDS Church all my life. I loved my mission and I love going to the temple. I love General Conference and I love serving in a local Bishopric. I hope you’ll take a look at my website and then come back here and make some suggestions as to how I can make it better and more useful in promoting the doctrines of our LDS faith to the world.
In May of 1993 I was working as an editor and publisher in the computer industry. My job required a lot of research and sourcing of material on the Internet. This was in the very earliest days of the World Wide Web. In fact, most of the material I obtained did not come from web pages but from mailing lists and online databases or FTP archives.
Although my job did not require it, I subscribed to a couple of LDS mailing lists. Part of my daily routine was to participate in the discussion that took place on Mormon-L. It is one of the oldest LDS lists, established in 1988 on one of the list servers at BYU. The discussions there were very similar to what we blog about today but mostly tamer.
One exception was a blow-up over an address given by Boyd K. Packer to the All-Church Coordinating Council. It can be found on several locations on the Internet. I prefer the formatting of the talk as presented on Light Planet. Without a doubt, it has been one of the most discussed and argued about addresses by a General Authority even to this day.
Background of the address
Early in his assignment to supervise Seminaries and Institutes, Elder Packer received counsel from President Harold B Lee who said, “You must decide now which way you face. Either you represent the teachers and students and champion their causes or you represent the Brethren who appointed you. You need to decide now which way you face.”
Elder Packer then gave a few examples demonstrating the concept of being corrected or even reproved by those presiding over him in the leadership of the Church. He describes how difficult it is to be submissive to changes requested, even to the point of accepting changes in talks given in General Conference. I love Elder Packer’s conference talks.
In his talk he mentions the worldwide evaporation of values and standards within politics, government, society, entertainment and education. He then briefly discusses drift taking place even within the church and points out how critical it is that we recognize and take corrective action. He reminds us that these are signs of danger foretold for the last days.
The three areas of danger
Elder Packer did not speak in generalities that day. He was very specific and direct in his remarks. He clearly identified that, “There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. I chose these three because they have made major invasions into the membership of the Church.
“In each, the temptation is for us to turn about and face the wrong way, and it is hard to resist, for doing it seems so reasonable and right. The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.
“Our local leaders must deal with all three of them with ever-increasing frequency. In each case, the members who are hurting have the conviction that the Church somehow is doing something wrong to members or that the Church is not doing enough for them.” He then mentions a recent conference address by President Benson on working mothers.
Counsel from a prophet
After reading excerpts of letters from members of the church demonstrating that each of these three areas are troubling to some, Elder Packer then offers the following counsel. Without diminishing the validity of the concerns expressed in the letters, he points out that without a true understanding of the plan of salvation, life will always seem unfair.
“That young man with gender disorientation needs to know that gender was not assigned at mortal birth, that we were sons and daughters of God in the premortal state. The woman pleading for help needs to see the eternal nature of things and to know that…she will find no enduring peace in the feminist movement. There she will have no hope.
Referring to an individual who offered to mediate between the scholarly community and the direction from the prophets he says, “The one who supposes that he ‘understands the mind-set of both groups’ needs to understand that the doctrines of the gospel are revealed through the Spirit to prophets, not through the intellect to scholars.”
Fifteen years later
Elder Packer was roundly criticized by many on the list for his perceived insensitivity to individuals and groups he mentioned in his talk. The criticism was so bad that it came to the attention of the leading councils of the church. The distribution of the list was kicked off the BYU servers. To many, this seemed like an attempt to squelch intellectual dialog.
You probably remember what happened to some within the scholarly community later that year. The plights of the September Six have been written up and discussed many times since then. I wonder if the same thing would have happened today. I can assure you that the dialog on LDS forums today is so much worse than what happened then.
The point of my essay is not to comment on President Packer’s condemnation of these three groups. I am not a member of any one of the groups so I can’t understand how it must have felt to have been identified as a grave threat and danger to the church. I only want to point out that today I believe we are more tolerant of dialog and even dissent.
Summary and conclusion
I love Elder Packer. He is one of my favorite apostles. His counsel over the years has helped and strengthened me tremendously. His health these days is not the best. I would not be surprised if he is called home soon. My wife’s family knows many of Elder Packer’s family as they are from Brigham City. I feel that he is like a distant relative.
I did not really understand the violent reaction to his talk back in 1993. Most members of the church were not even aware of what had transpired and most still don’t today. I felt bad for him. I know he was trying to be helpful. I have always felt that Elder Packer is one who, like Elder McConkie, has always tried to keep the caravan on the right path.
My apologies to those who read this post based on the title expecting to find some essay condemning gays, feminists and intellectuals. I hope you have not come away with that idea at all. I sincerely hope that we have become more tolerant over the years. I also hope that we have learned not to take offense when a prophet tries to give us counsel.