39: Intellectuals and the Mormon Tradition

June 28, 2011
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In early June, the Deseret News published a list compiled by Leonard J. Arrington in 1969 of the “most eminent intellectuals in Mormon history.” As you can imagine, the feature generated a lot of discussion both on the newspaper’s website, as well as in many corners of the Mormon bloggernacle. Who among those listed still belong in the Top Ten? Who should be on there now? Why aren’t any women listed, and which women should have made that list then or if a new list were compiled today? <br />

In this Mormon Matters episode, host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Joanna Brooks, Kristine Haglund, and Boyd Petersen discuss this list and various issues it raises, but then launch into a both serious and fun examination of the oftentimes uncomfortable relationship that Mormonism has had with its intellectuals. Among the topics they hash out are what makes someone an intellectual, why being “learned” is often seen with suspicion and denounced by certain church leaders and members, what positive roles do intellectuals play within the LDS tradition, and what advice might the panelists give to those with an intellectual temperament who find themselves struggling for a comfortable home within Mormonism? It’s a great discussion that raises issues faced by many of this podcast’s listeners. We hope you’ll listen and then join in the discussion below!

Additional reading listeners might enjoy:

Leonard J. Arrington’s 1969 article, “The Intellectual Tradition of the Latter-day Saints,” in which the list first appeared

Follow-up article in 1993 by Stan Larson in which he reports on the results of a new survey

Blog thread at LDSWave discussing eminent women intellectuals

Armand L. Mauss essay with ideas for successfully navigating a fulfilling and engaged life within Mormonism as an “alternate voice” (with his suggestions just as easily a fit for “intellectuals”)

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61 Responses to 39: Intellectuals and the Mormon Tradition

  1. Dan Wotherspoon
    June 29, 2011 at 4:13 am

    Near the end of the podcast, I read a small excerpt from Neal A. Chandler’s wonderful article, “Zion’s Gulag: Reflections on Intellec-chals, Inquisition, and the Consolation of Philosophy” (Sunstone, July 1988, pages 8-13).

    Here’s a link to whole thing: https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/066-08-13.pdf

    Below is a larger cut of the portion of his essay I read that follows immediately after he relates how he first began to see himself as a Mormon “intellec-chall”:

    Begin Chandler quotation:
    Now, I have given this word a Mormon ethnic spelling because it is phonetically and semantically peculiar to Mormonism where it connotes not intelligence (a word with its own Mormon history), but a certain kind of attitudinal disorder.  Indeed, I have since learned that to qualify among the Saints as an intellec-chal requires neither grades, nor credentials, nor learning, nor for that matter, intellect, but only the disturbing symptoms of a too objective or analytical distance, a kind of willful autism of the spirit.    Appearance is, in this regard, far more important than substance.  Often a beard alone will do.  Sometimes the mention of an unfamiliar book.  Or you may also bring up an entirely familiar and authorized book, the sort good Mormons display on coffee tables, but then say that you disliked it, or liked it with reservations … or, and this especially, say you found it well intentioned, but misguided.  If you cite C.S. Lewis instead of B.H. Roberts, if you cite B.H. Roberts instead of Joseph Fielding Smith; if you quote Brigham Young on both sides of any single issue, if you quote scripture in context … you become suspicious.  But you seal your identity when you ask unexpected questions in classes where, as real Mormons know, it is actually your role to provide familiar ritual answers to familiar ritual questions in a kind of informal Mormon catechism.  Such call and response ceremonies have become our new world answer to liturgy in old world Christian tradition, and the disruption of liturgy is the sure Cain’s mark of an intellec-chal.

    Suddenly people glare at you across the Sunday School classroom.  Eyebrows rise and eyeballs roll as you raise the arm of flesh yet one more time.  Fragile investigators and question- traumatized new members cringe behind every folding door and under every folding chair.  But then perhaps late one night a caller phones with a hardball question to which the teacher the manuals, prayer, and even Elder McConkie have managed no satisfying answer.  And indeed, what such callers seem to want is not answers, not really, but a respite from inexorable answers.  They want breathing room.  They need, or seem to need, distance.

    • July 5, 2011 at 11:42 am

      it connotes not intelligence (a word with its own Mormon history), but
      a certain kind of attitudinal disorder.  Indeed, I have since learned
      that to qualify among the Saints as an intellec-chal requires neither
      grades, nor credentials, nor learning, nor for that matter, intellect,
      but only the disturbing symptoms of a too objective or analytical
      distance, a kind of willful autism of the spirit

      Well, I liked the part where  you refer to many as having a kind of willful autism of the spirit.  Nicely framed.

    • January 8, 2012 at 11:27 am

      I like the idea that you presented @fbe7f4733dbbdf6e8b95cd0f9da3147a:disqus from this article that perhaps (a branch?) of intellectualism is being able to recognize the questions and not always seek after the answers because then maybe I could claim a part on the intellectual tree (which I so much feel drawn to) but I think is an obscure branch and not one that bears much if any fruit. 

      Is their a place for the student?

      • Dan Wotherspoon
        January 8, 2012 at 2:16 pm

        Hey AA,

        Fun to have you weigh in here (and always when you do)! I’m a bit unclear about what you are asking (branch of intellectual tree?), so let me just ramble a bit and hopefully not be totally off the point. Happy to respond to any responses.

        I think the very definition of intellectual includes a strong affinity for questions, though I know some folks who like to engage in intellectual discussions yet do it not for inquiry’s sake as much as defense of “answers” I’m not one who really wants to go to the mat about defining the term in a way that keeps someone out who claims it, but I don’t think those focused on answers more than questions would be the norm. The inquiry is so much more fun and fulfilling than “answers” of the type I’m thinking of above that are more in service of shutting down further inquiry. 

        If you haven’t already, look in another comment in this thread where I give Eugene England’s definition of someone with the intellectual’s gift. It’s my favorite description.

        If you’re drawn to these types of inquiries, I say (obvious irony here in a thread about intellectualism), don’t worry about what your “mind” says and definitely trust that “feeling” of being “drawn.” I think there’s a ton of wisdom available to us through our gut–whether positively calling us or somehow simply conveying to us discomfort. I think it’s always important to always trace down “why am I feeling this or that?” 

        Also please definitely trust that students will and always will be welcome (especially ones as open and honest and likable as you who approach without bluster or pretense). In anything with a long tradition, there is jargon and a sort of assumed familiarity with key people, concepts, debates, and things like that, but these really serve more as shorthand for those already in the conversation–things that allow one to pick right up and try to push without re-hashing the whole past discussion–than being intended to exclude new folks from joining in. I think someone coming into the discussion should be willing to do a bit of work in trying to detect something about the history of any particulars under discussion (find out what the key articles or debates are), but I also have found that most people already more immersed in a discussion are very willing to offer a quick “catch up” summary, too. After that, it’s just time and attention that brings a comfortable familiarity.

        One thought is to perhaps think of it as joining a new family via marriage: they are going to talk about events and people and stories from family lore that you’ve never heard of, and it takes a while for you to start catching up and feeling oriented. They aren’t trying to exclude you as much as simply move fast into the point for that moment. Like there, though, it’s okay to ask for a quick rundown to assist in making sense of things in the moment, but it’s also probably good to at least sometimes let it go right then and afterward ask your spouse or someone in the family you have become close to for that broader story. 

        I’m happy to do whatever I can to help you orient in any of the Mormon intellectual discussions you’re drawn to become more familiar with. So please don’t hesitate to ask for some orientation kinds of things.

        Now you’ll have to explain a lot more to me by the line about “not bearing much fruit.” Did you mean intellectualism doesn’t ever make much difference in the world or the church (sort of a pragmatic claim), or is it something else? I don’t want to anticipate your question here, so rather than mount an argument for something you may not be asking or suggesting, I’ll just ask you for more framing. Thanks! 

        Thanks, again, too, for jumping in! 
        Dan

        • January 8, 2012 at 9:42 pm

          Oh I think I understand you much more after that explanation. In the podcast I felt it started out defining an intellectual as a person who has the answers. I liked your explanation that allows someone to ask question without the pressure of finding an answer. It widens the scope and I’m a fan of that.

          • Anonymous
            February 22, 2012 at 8:04 pm

             I just love this exchange above. There are these tough questions, which do not have the One Right Answer.

            Myself, I find that I’m too inclined to give pat answers; I should be more willing to honestly say something like, “that’s a good question; what do you think?”

            But then, that attitude would define me as an intellectual in some LDS circles. Some people seem to be afraid of questions that do not have those pat answers. But I guess that statement makes me a snobbish intellectual, to boot.

            The question that sometimes I dare ask in these contexts is, “is there any way or scenario where an ‘intellectual’ can find out s/he has a spiritual and an intellectual confirmation?” I have heard some very smart and well-educated and -read people claim to never have had an intellectual crisis of faith, and that leads me to believe there is something about bringing your heart and mind  with you in this business of Faith and Salvation.

            Can an “intellectual” find that D&C 9:8 becomes true in practise? I’d hate to use myself as an example, because that would just sound condescending towards someone whose reality turned out differently than mine, or who feels her/himself more intellectual than me–because their experience is different. Although, naturally, reality is not actually relative, so it’s just our experience.

            So is this a question that labels a person by just asking it? Although, I don’t know whether anyone should carry a negative label because of their personal experience and questioning attitude. And some people would find my questions uncomfortable, because there are too many questions without the One Right Answer. The way I weave my experience together with whatever I have time to read and think of is quite likely to be different than someone else’s, but still not wrong.

            “Ask and you shall receive.” Did someone say that? He didn’t promise that it would be simple & easy. It took me over 20 years to actually convert myself. So should I even be offering any answers here; does it sound like that?

  2. Dan Wotherspoon
    June 29, 2011 at 4:13 am

    Near the end of the podcast, I read a small excerpt from Neal A. Chandler’s wonderful article, “Zion’s Gulag: Reflections on Intellec-chals, Inquisition, and the Consolation of Philosophy” (Sunstone, July 1988, pages 8-13).

    Here’s a link to whole thing: https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/066-08-13.pdf

    Below is a larger cut of the portion of his essay I read that follows immediately after he relates how he first began to see himself as a Mormon “intellec-chall”:

    Begin Chandler quotation:
    Now, I have given this word a Mormon ethnic spelling because it is phonetically and semantically peculiar to Mormonism where it connotes not intelligence (a word with its own Mormon history), but a certain kind of attitudinal disorder.  Indeed, I have since learned that to qualify among the Saints as an intellec-chal requires neither grades, nor credentials, nor learning, nor for that matter, intellect, but only the disturbing symptoms of a too objective or analytical distance, a kind of willful autism of the spirit.    Appearance is, in this regard, far more important than substance.  Often a beard alone will do.  Sometimes the mention of an unfamiliar book.  Or you may also bring up an entirely familiar and authorized book, the sort good Mormons display on coffee tables, but then say that you disliked it, or liked it with reservations … or, and this especially, say you found it well intentioned, but misguided.  If you cite C.S. Lewis instead of B.H. Roberts, if you cite B.H. Roberts instead of Joseph Fielding Smith; if you quote Brigham Young on both sides of any single issue, if you quote scripture in context … you become suspicious.  But you seal your identity when you ask unexpected questions in classes where, as real Mormons know, it is actually your role to provide familiar ritual answers to familiar ritual questions in a kind of informal Mormon catechism.  Such call and response ceremonies have become our new world answer to liturgy in old world Christian tradition, and the disruption of liturgy is the sure Cain’s mark of an intellec-chal.

    Suddenly people glare at you across the Sunday School classroom.  Eyebrows rise and eyeballs roll as you raise the arm of flesh yet one more time.  Fragile investigators and question- traumatized new members cringe behind every folding door and under every folding chair.  But then perhaps late one night a caller phones with a hardball question to which the teacher the manuals, prayer, and even Elder McConkie have managed no satisfying answer.  And indeed, what such callers seem to want is not answers, not really, but a respite from inexorable answers.  They want breathing room.  They need, or seem to need, distance.

  3. Dan Wotherspoon
    June 29, 2011 at 4:22 am

    A definition of “intellectual” from a talk given in 1975 by Eugene England to BYU’s Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society.” I had it ready to include in the podcast discussion but never found the perfect moment.

    Begin England quotation:
    I address you tonight in terms of your special gift; I propose to explore what it might mean in these last days to be a Mormon Scholar, a Latter-day Saint intellectual. Perhaps some of you flinch at the label, “intellectual”; it isn’t always a complimentary term in our society—or even in the Church. I use it in an essentially neutral way, as descriptive of your gift from the Lord that makes you delight in ideas, alive to the life that goes on in your mind as well as outside it, that makes you question set forms and conventional wisdom to see if they really are truth or only habit, whether they endure because right or merely because of fear or sloth; I use the term intellectual to refer to the gift from the Lord that makes you curious about why as well as how, anxious to serve him by being creative as well as obedient. You, more than most people, have it in you to exemplify Sir Thomas More’s phrase in A Man for All Seasons, when he says God made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity, but humans he made “to serve him wittily, in the tangle of our minds.”

    • June 29, 2011 at 6:12 am

      There are several technical problems at the 1:12 mark and afterward.

      • Dan Wotherspoon
        June 29, 2011 at 12:49 pm

        Wow! Thanks for catching, John! Will dig in right now and reload it here as well as will push a corrected version up to iTunes. I’ll report when all fixed.

        Dan

      • Dan Wotherspoon
        June 29, 2011 at 1:21 pm

        Now fixed both here and if anyone needs to re-download this episode at iTunes. Thanks, again, John! 

        If you want to be sure you will be listening to the repaired file, be sure above as well as at iTunes it’s the episode version that is 1:22:32 in length rather than the file that is 1:24:37. Sorry about hassles! Still learning subtleties of post-production and ways things can go wrong!

  4. June 29, 2011 at 5:41 am

    At the 42 minute mark Boyd talks about his wife being trumped by 20 somethings who have the priesthood.  A discussion of “priesthood inflation” came immediately to mind, where before the Church went to Utah, being an Elder or even a Deacon was quite rare.  It seems to me that one reason why we may not honor our women intellectuals is that we are drowning in priesthood.  (Priesthood is authority, and authority is anti-intellectual.)  If there is only one deacon, and no other priesthood authority holder, in your Sunday School class, then perhaps intellect would be more welcome.  But when every pubescent boy and man holds a position of authority within a hierarchy, and that hierarchy is the central mode of worship (all others are auxiliary at best), the Church can’t help but feel top-down (with the top feeling omnipresent), and stifling. 

    So if you agree with me, what’s the down side to restricting priesthood to so few people (like the Church did when it was in Nauvoo or Kirtland, or like the Community of Christ does today)?

    • Christopherjcobb
      July 6, 2011 at 7:31 pm

      I think there is a fear that “rationing” priesthood could be considered political. “Why is he being ordained and I’m not.” type of thing.

      • July 7, 2011 at 10:14 pm

        When I was serving my mission in Kirtland, the long-term Director of the Kirtland Temple (one of only two in the Community of Christ) was just then ordained a Teacher.  So when I think about a church without priesthood inflation, I’m thinking of something very different than rationing.

  5. June 29, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    I would suggest that there were a number of intellects in the Early LDS Church.  If the antagonists are correct and the Book of Mormon came out of the head of Joseph Smith using sources available to him at the time, the Bible, Spaulding Manuscript, etc, then with their premise, Joseph must been an intellectual of the first order.  Perhaps the Book of Mormon says it best:

     “O that cunning plan of the evil one!  O the vainness, and the
    frailties, and the foolishness of men!  When they are learned
    they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel
    of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves,
    wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not.
    And they shall perish.”

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

    God gave us a thinking brain to use but if science has taught us anything is that we know very little in the global scheme of things.

    Another spiritual teacher writes:

    “The present moment holds the key to liberation. But you cannot find the present moment as long as you are your mind.”

    And is questioned:

    “I don’t want to lose my ability to analyze and discriminate. I wouldn’t mind learning to think more clearly, in a more focused way, but I don’t want to lose my mind. The gift of thought is the most precious thing we have. Without it, we would just be another species of animal.”

    To which he responds:

    “The predominance of mind is no more than a stage in the evolution of consciousness. We need to go on to the next stage now as a matter of urgency; otherwise, we will be destroyed by the mind, which has grown into a monster. I will talk about this in more detail later. Thinking and consciousness are not synonymous. Thinking is only a small aspect of consciousness. Thought cannot exist without consciousness, but consciousness does not need thought.”

    “Enlightenment means rising above thought, not falling back to a level below thought, the level of an animal or a plant. In the enlightened state, you still use your thinking mind when needed, but in a much more focused and effective way than before. You use it mostly for practical purposes, but you are free of the involuntary internal dialogue, and there is inner stillness. When you do use your mind, and particularly when a creative solution is needed, you oscillate every few minutes or so between thought and stillness, between mind and no-mind. No-mind is consciousness without thought. Only in that way is it possible to think creatively, because only in that way does thought have any real power. Thought alone, when it is no longer connected with the much vaster realm of consciousness, quickly becomes barren, insane, destructive.”

    “The mind is essentially a survival machine. Attack and defense against other minds, gathering, storing, and analyzing information – this is what it is good at, but it is not at all creative. All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness. The mind then gives form to the creative impulse or insight. Even the great scientists have reported that their creative breakthroughs came at a time of mental quietude. The surprising result of a nation-wide inquiry among America’s most eminent mathematicians, including Einstein, to find out their working methods, was that thinking plays only a subordinate part in the brief, decisive phase of the creative act itself.”

    “So I would say that the simple reason why the majority of scientists are not creative is not because they don’t know how to think but because they don’t know how to stop thinking!”

    “It wasn’t through the mind, through thinking, that the miracle that is life on earth or your body were created and are being sustained. There is clearly an intelligence at work that is far greater than the mind. How can a single human cell measuring 1/1,000 of an inch across contain instructions within its DNA that would fill 1,000 books of 600 pages each? The more we learn about the workings of the body, the more we realize just how vast is the intelligence at work within it and how little we know. When the mind reconnects with that, it becomes a most wonderful tool. It then serves something greater than itself.” –
    Eckhart Tolle from “The Power of Now”

    Or as another Spiritual Teacher who taught about humility:

    “Blessed [are] the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

     or as He said elsewhere:

    “Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

    Glen

  6. jed
    June 29, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    “Priesthood is authority, and authority is anti-intellectual”
    John, I understand where this comment may come from, however I have to take issue with it. I think that where things may be going wrong in the church is that priesthood is only taught in terms of authority. In the way I look at Joseph Smiths giving the priesthood to his friends it was not primarily authoritarian. The keys of the priesthood are to know and understand the mysteries of God. I interperet this to mean that a person with the priesthood should have a special ability to search and get revelation that opens up the mysteries. I think it is precisely this point that is a sore spot to church authority. I cant tell you of all the leaders I have had that could not use these priesthood keys, yet when a subject is brought up they are the first to try and shut down anyone else. I think that the problem of intellectuals all comes down to this. Priesthood leadership often lacks deep gospel understanding and so reacts to thinking questioning people negativley, the membership obediently follows.

    Dan one point of critisim-why do you primarily use people with multiple degrees. The description that was suggested for an intellectual as being a person that is a professional academic just comes across snoby.

    • RachelM
      June 29, 2011 at 6:23 pm

      Jed,  I can understand why you would think that the definition which requires some sort of academic discipline seems snobby.   I think that is why Kristine’s added definition of it being a part of temperament was offered.  It seemed to me that the panel was floating out the concepts to try to reach a usable and real definition.  

      I also tend to agree with you about the definition of priesthood that was used.  This has bothered me before in other discussions as well.   To me, priesthood is granted to all membership of the church, even though we don’t discuss it that way.   In discussions I have seen/read/ etc about women and the priesthood, it seems clear to me that women in the church have the priesthood.  We don’t hold offices in the priesthood.  It has often bothered me that we refer to the men as “the priesthood” when it is clear that they are ordained to offices of specific priesthood orders.  When women begin with “I don’t want the priesthood but…”  what they are really saying is that they don’t covet the responsibilities of the office.  Anyway- that was a major tangent.  Sorry.   I have experienced something akin to what Boyd Peterson described about his wife, and I have always found it a bit ridiculous.   I have had friends who have experienced far worse than that (my friend was literally shouted down by the men in her Gospel Doctrine class), and at that point it is obvious they do not understand the function of the priesthood at all. 

      • June 29, 2011 at 11:39 pm

        Great points, both of you.  When I said priesthood is authority, I was working off the definition which has become almost a catechism in Mormonism:  Priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God.  This interpretation of priesthood is probably why there is such a strong obedience streak in our Church, despite clear revelations saying the Church is to be governed by common consent.  (Governance requiring common consent is found in anarchist organizations, the least obedient of them all.)

        Rachel, I think your tangent is extremely important.  How often have we heard “We would like to thank the priesthood for the reverent manner in which they administered the sacrament”?  This isn’t just a slip of the tongue, or inattention to detail, in my opinion.  This, I think, is modern Mormon culture’s own sort of transubstantiation.  Those boys aren’t acting with authority, they ARE the authority.  And how can a PhD stand up to that??

        One last point for Jed. Academic degrees are a form of authority. Requiring someone to have an academic degree in order to be considered an intellectual is, therefore, anti-intellectual, in my mind. (And snooty, too.)

        • RachelM
          June 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm

          I agree.  It isn’t a slip of the tongue.  It is a slip of the mind and spirit. They claim authority without understanding what it is or how it is truly achieved.   I find this statement by jed to be interesting-  “I used my priesthood keys to discover by revelation the truth of this mystery”  
          I don’t know if those without this understanding do not want to look closely at it, or simply don’t like the uncomfortable position of discovering something that hasn’t been taught directly over the pulpit.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      June 30, 2011 at 4:19 am

      Interesting. I never even think if someone I invite has a ton of degrees or not. Always to me the goal is to find people who I think will have interesting things to say on a subject, who are primarily constructive in their approach, and who will be fun conversationalists and laugh easily. If you want to write me privately about any panelists who I have had on more than once who come across snobby or in other ways do not met those requirements, please do. So far, for me, I’ve been really pleased that, whether highly degreed or not, we’ve had guests that generally meet that standard.

      • jed
        June 30, 2011 at 1:55 pm

        I think your criteria is spot on, and so far I think you have been very successful in generating constructive conversation. I guess I’m just being overly critical, but in this podcast I just found myself wanting to heard a less academic approach. Anyway I am a big fan of yours and I think you do a great job moderating the podcast. God bless you.

      • RachelM
        June 30, 2011 at 3:37 pm

        Dan, I also think your criteria is spot on, and while others may consider it a tad “snooty”, I consider it necessary that people who have disciplined themselves in ideas are included.   When Joanna made the point about Roger Williams Dominant Residual and Emergent modes of thought,  I was fascinated.   I admit I had to listen to it 3 or 4 times to really start to comprehend what was presented, but I was intrigued, and to listen to intriguing new ideas is part of why I tune in.  And when Boyd Peterson was discussing Nibley’s gaining credentials in the mainstream while also bringing in ideas that weren’t, I was thinking I would like to hear a podcast just on that.  (not suggesting programming)  

        • Dan Wotherspoon
          June 30, 2011 at 4:22 pm

          Responding to both Jed and RachelM:

          Thank you, both! Really appreciate your feedback, and I am mad at myself for even posting in response to Jed. I was being defensive, and that is generally not a good heart/mind space to respond from. Please forgive me. And thank you, Jed, for your kind note back that alerted me that I didn’t offend you.

          I am very interested in and do a lot of thinking about the podcast in general and what I hope for it. And I have to admit that the most common trigger for my going into another round of reflection on these things is when comments come in about various positions not being represented through the inclusion of a panelist with this or that position or background. I do appreciate diversity as an ideal, especially when the various positions on a subject truly are pretty close on the credibility spectrum (in other words, I don’t think I would ever feel the need to put an ideologically driven creationist on a panel discussing evolution simply for the sake of “balance”).

          I guess when push comes to shove, my reflections on shape and direction for the podcast most often take me down the following track: This podcast is not engaged in doing journalism. We definitely jump off of subjects often covered in the news, and we definitely don’t want to misrepresent various positions that are out there, but we’re not pretending to present stories objectively. My goal is to host good, fun, interesting discussion starters/advancers. If I can find panelists with different backgrounds or ideological points of view, wonderful! If not, I’m definitely going to go for the types of folks I mentioned earlier regardless of their ideological diversity or credentials. Dare I say that I don’t really mind if Mormon Matters comes to be seen as advocating progressive and expansive and also constructive approaches to Mormonism and difficult issues? Let other podcasts rise up and do “news.” I want to spend my time on discussions that acknowledge difficult issues, dicsussions in which panelists get properly testy and angry about leadership blunders and pieces of Mormon culture and habits of thinking that are backassward, yet all of us still assuming good motives, good hearts, and always trying to remember and honor and lift up the rich resources within the LDS tradition for healthier approaches. 

          Does that make sense? I welcome reactions of all types! This baby is still evolving…
           
          Cheers,
          Dan

  7. Kristine Haglund
    June 29, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    I think it would be more straightforward to just give Boyd’s wife the priesthood!

    • Kristine Haglund
      June 29, 2011 at 6:36 pm

      oops–that was a response to John. I hate threaded comments!

      • June 29, 2011 at 11:21 pm

        I cannot believe I am about to push back on something you said (Dialogue is my favorite Mormon Journal), but what are your thoughts on Priestesshood?  Maybe it’s my desire for a revelation on Heavenly Mother, but I see the two very closely related.  Either way, if she were an Elder, and there were three High Priests/High Priestesses in the room, she could run into a similar problem.

        • Kristine Haglund
          June 30, 2011 at 3:47 pm

          Oh, heavens–fortunately all of the actually intelligent things in Dialogue are written by people other than me, so my job should not be a reason to worry about disagreeing with me!

          As for Priestesshood, I’m fer it! However, I don’t think that the problems of institutional and cultural sexism are likely to be solved by changes in ordination practice, either exclusivist (as you propose) or inclusivist (as I suggested sort of tongue in cheek).

          [Also, for the record, any boy that tried dissing Boyd's wife by virtue of his office (or for any other reason) would get _schooled_.  Zina kicks ass and takes names!]

  8. jed
    June 29, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    RachelM, I think we are on the same page with this. When priesthood is seen as the authority for a group of men to rule the church its real purpose is diluted. I have to confess there was a time in my life that I believed that women had no right to teach men the gospel. I came to realize through study and experience that that position cant be supported historically or theologically and I used my priesthood keys to discover by revelation the truth of this mystery.So thats my tangent in response to your tangent.
    So my question would be, why are leaders threatened by intellectuals?

    • RachelM
      June 29, 2011 at 9:05 pm

      I think it comes down to the ideas attributed to Boyd K Packer about historians.   I think they feel that the ideas floated out  and speculated by intellectuals who want to look closer at the actual history, practices and doctrines of the church threaten the “simple faith” of many followers.   Just as we are told  “milk before meat”,  the milk always allows for a safe haven even if it is unsatisfying.  Hunting “the meat” has its perils for the faithful.  It encourages heavy questioning or doubt will inevitably lead to a more roller coaster journey that doesn’t have a sure end.  

      I tend to think they want to think of us as sheep that need to be kept within the flock and away from the snares instead of shepherds in training who need to learn about the snares and cliffs and even to learn from the sheep. 

      • June 29, 2011 at 11:53 pm

        I’m no historian, but it seems that Jesus, and even Joseph Smith, always did the opposite.  Almost like “Well, we got rid of half of ‘em by saying I was the bread of life, let’s see how many stick around after I say I am the Messiah.”  Joseph seemed a bit irritated by the phenomenon (“fly apart like glass”), whereas Jesus seemed saddened (“Will ye also go away?”), but both knew it would happen and taught the deep doctrines anyway.

        • RachelM
          June 30, 2011 at 3:20 pm

          It is interesting that you always mention Heavenly Mother as part of your beliefs.  Sometimes I wonder about whether the reticence to talk about Heavenly Mother is because of where we have proselytized in the past.   Our missionary efforts in the past have overwhelmingly favored westernized Protestants where the ideas of a divine feminine are circumspect, I think  in reaction to the deification of Mary in Catholicism.    (I admit, it is vastly more complicated than this rudimentary explanation)  I wonder as the church is growing into parts of the world where the divine feminine is more recognized and celebrated if we can continue to ignore Heavenly Mother.   You stated that the doctrine should make your friends feel more comfortable, but our striding for conformity to the rest of American Christianity would make them uncomfortable.   That is incredible dissonance and you wonder if it is harmful to missionary efforts in the long run.   

          As for how the church operates today vs originally,  I think it is telling that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were both on the Atlantic Monthly list (last year?) of 100 most influential americans.  I actually do believe that neither would make the list without the other, and neither was pure idealist or pure pragmatist.  Also, perhaps the biggest changes have occurred in the last 60 years.  Like most things about life, it is vastly complex and subtle.  Today. we make a show of common consent, but I have never challenged it.  I have never raised my hand in opposition because I have never known anything specific to object to. I wonder how well received it would be if I did?   Again I think this goes to the extreme pressure for conformity in the church and the strange sense that the men (and I do mean men) making the decisions operate from a sphere of vastly greater knowledge.  I personally find that idea funny considering the vastly different ideas held by the different apostles and prophets.  

  9. June 30, 2011 at 6:43 am

    I thought it was interesting where Boyd brought up Richard Bushman at 47:30 talking about Mormon scholarship entering a “Golden Age”.  That scholarship is no longer judged by its partisan conclusions but by accuracy and insight.  I was actually thinking something similar just before listening to this podcast.  Between Dialogue, Sunstone, the Bloggernacle, BYU Studies, Mormon Stories, Mormon Matters, etc I see so much interesting, insightful discussion in Mormon studies.  I’m excited to see all of this
    exploration.  It seems like new publications are popping up all the time.  The Claremont Journal of Mormon Studies just launched.  It’s good stuff.  At least I’m optimistic.

  10. Gail F. Bartholomew
    June 30, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Great pod cast.  I would not call myself a scholar or an intellectual. I do how ever enjoy some critical study.  I also have made an attempt to avoid arguing or being caustic  at church.  Again I struggle with the dichotomy we are faced with.  I struggle to really understand why stating that scholars do not believe that Daniel was a real person is caustic or argumentative.  Last year one of the few times I attended  Sunday school I made a comment that the teacher seemed to be uncomfortable with.  They were talking about the Babylonian captivity.  The lesson stated something to the effect that the captivity was important because it taught the children of Isrial important things.  I stated that many scholars point to the captivity as the birth of monotheism.  I struggle when there is such a prejudice against any hint of a scholarly examination of the facts are meet with offence. I think of any time I am discussing issues with most members of my word or family that includes any sort of critical examination of statements of the brethren I am shut down.  I am also reminded of the open attacks the brethren engage in.   Elder Oaks said something to the effect when attacking the authors of “Mormon Enigma”  that anything that would make the prophet Joseph look poorly even if it is true we need to do what every we can to attack it.  And as a result of the efforts of the brethren this book was almost completely discredited in the church even though BYU gave this book awards for its historical value.  While I think I understand the attitude of the pod cast that we should be quiet some times so we do not offend, yet this efforts seems to be only one sided.  In fact the churches efforts seem to be a bit tyrannical to me.  Please correct me if I am wrong but it seems the brethren have shaped a culture that it is OK to be an intellectual as long as you do not engage in any critical examination of any statement of theirs or of the correlated version of the gospel; It is OK to be a smart woman as long as you are quiet about it; It is OK to be gay as long as you pretend to be straight and tell no one who you really are.  Why is it acceptable for us to sit by and be polite about what looks like open hostility towards anyone in these groups that are not extremely careful about what they say or do in public.  Please understand I do admire all of you on this pod cast for finding a voice.  I may be wrong but this seems a little like the gay man only able to hold the hand of his boy friend in a gay bar in the 1950′s for fear of arrest, violent reprisals, and or ridicule.   All of us that call ourselves Mormon are part of a oppressive and prejudicial culture.  When I look at history oppressive and prejudicial cultures are only changed when there are those within that culture that are willing to stand up, speak out, and say things that are unpopular, offensive,  and many times even illegal.   I do not remember changes being made by those choosing to be silent.  Am I wrong?    

    • Kristine Haglund
      June 30, 2011 at 2:56 pm

      You’re not wrong about history and culture in general, but can you think of a time in the LDS Church when someone who stood up and spoke out had any effect at all? The institutional narrative of the Mormon church is such that dissenters are always already explained away as sinners, so they _can’t_ have any effect. As far as I can see, the only people who have effected significant change in the church have done so quietly, very, very patiently. There was a Sunstone panel discussion of this last year.  My contribution: http://bycommonconsent.com/2010/09/24/what-i-said-at-sunstone/

      • Gail F. Bartholomew
        July 1, 2011 at 10:54 pm

        Kristine,

        Thank you.

  11. Dan Wotherspoon
    June 30, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Gail.

    I agree with Kristine about the general ineffectiveness of taking head-on approaches, and I think it was this sort of pragmatism that was at least partly what was in the minds of those of us in the podcast discussion who might have ever said things about sometimes staying quiet. I don’t think any of us advocate taking crap from leaders or members lying down. But I think we all/most also share an awareness that (as Joanna and others said explicitly) Sunday meetings don’t define the entirety of Mormonism or represent the only time in which intellectuals can be heard and be agents for change. Whether we’ve come to a position of sometimes saying, “Hey, we don’t have to share everything we think or take on every poorly presented or factually inaccurate statement,” through experiences of having deas we’ve presented landing like a thud or simply through our finding fulfillment in hallway or ward dinner or private consultations with people who seek us out (or who we may want to say things to when we feel offended), I definitely don’t think any of us are in any way advocating being “silent.”

    • Gail F. Bartholomew
      July 1, 2011 at 10:53 pm

      Dan,

      Thanks for your patient way of responding to my vitriol.  It is pretty obvious that I struggle a lot internally with this balance.  I apologize if my comment came out in any way as an accusation. 

      • Kristine Haglund
        July 2, 2011 at 12:03 am

        Gail, I thought you were fine. Fortunately, we’re not in Relief Society, so we can disagree :)

      • Kristine Haglund
        July 2, 2011 at 12:03 am

        Gail, I thought you were fine. Fortunately, we’re not in Relief Society, so we can disagree :)

      • Dan Wotherspoon
        July 2, 2011 at 2:08 pm

        Like Kristine, no sense on my end that your comment was vitriolic. Thanks for worrying, though! Please keep engaging!

        Dan

  12. Craig
    June 30, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Are the mormon leaders buying their  way to heaven?  http://www.moneyteachers.org/Rothschilds+Gift+to+Mormons.htm

  13. June 30, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    My comment on priesthood holders who assume that they are necessarily smarter than Boyd’s wife: “The mantle has smothered the intellect.”

  14. jed
    July 1, 2011 at 1:04 am

    This is a parable given by one of my favorite authors N. T. Wright. I will not comment or give my interpretation of this story but I will say that I think it directly applies to this discussion.

    The Hidden Spring
    There was once a powerful dictator who ruled his country with an iron will. Every aspect of life was thought through and worked out according to a rational system. Nothing was left to chance.The dictator noticed that the water sources around the country were erratic and in some cases dangerous. There were thousands of springs of water, often in the middle of towns and cities. They could be useful, but sometimes they caused floods, sometimes they got polluted, and often they burst out in new places and damaged roads, fields, and houses.The dictator decided on a sensible, rational policy. The whole country, or at least every part where there was any suggestion of water, would be paved over with concrete so thick that no spring of water could ever penetrate it. The water that people needed would be brought to them by a complex system of pipes. Furthermore, the dictator decided, he would use the opportunity, while he was at it, to put into the water various chemicals that would make the people healthy. With the dictator controlling the supply, everyone would have what he decided they needed, and there wouldn’t be any more nuisance from unregulated springs.For many years the plan worked just fine. People got used to their water coming from the new system. It sometimes tasted a bit strange, and from time to time they would look back wistfully to the bubbling streams and fresh springs they used to enjoy. Some of the problems that people had formerly blamed on unregulated water hadn’t gone away. It turned out that the air was just as polluted as the water had sometimes been, but the dictator couldn’t, or didn’t, do much about that. But mostly the new system seemed efficient. People praised the dictator for his forward-looking wisdom.A generation passed. All seemed to be well. Then, without warning, the springs that had gone on bubbling and sparkling beneath the solid concrete could no longer be contained. In a sudden explosion -a cross between a volcano and an earthquake – they burst through the concrete that people had come to take for granted. Muddy, dirty water shot into the air and rushed through the streets and into houses, shops, and factories. Roads were torn up; whole cities were in chaos. Some people were delighted: at last they could get water again without depending on The System. But the people who ran the official water pipes were at a loss: suddenly everyone had more than enough water, but it wasn’t pure and couldn’t be controlled.

    • July 3, 2011 at 1:01 pm

      I think we are mudding the water! ;-)

  15. Todd
    July 1, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Thanks for another interesting and thought provoking podcast. I really admire your collective determination to claim your Mormon identities and carve out workable and productive places for yourselves in your local LDS congregations. That is a trick that I just can’t seem to manage in spite of years of effort, so I have a few questions that have been rattling around in my brain that I’d love to get your thoughts on:

    To what degree does the ability of unorthodox/doubting/intellectual Mormons to participate successfully in their LDS congregations depend on the makeup and personality of their local wards and leadership?  Do you think your relationship with the church or your level of engagement might change if you lived in, say, a very conservative, orthodox Utah County ward? How much do think the differences in local congregations and leadership can affect the viability of the techniques and suggestions you discussed in the podcast?

    Or to put it another way, how much can local factors shift the cost/benefit ratio of active participation in one direction or the other for unorthodox Mormons?

    • Kristine Haglund
      July 2, 2011 at 3:36 am

      Todd, I think local differences can be HUGE. I’m drastically more content in my current ward than I was in the previous one I lived in. I think it’s possible to make it work in a very conservative ward, and I’ve done so for longish stretches of my life, but it’s certainly a lot less pleasant. I’m honestly not sure I could survive in Utah! But Boyd lives in a conservative, orthodox Utah County ward–maybe he’ll chime in about how to do it.

      Ultimately, though, the forces that impel my participation are far less rational than any cost/benefit analysis. Any _reasonable_ assessment of the situation would dictate my immediate transfer to an Episcopal parish with a really good choir :)

  16. July 1, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    I enjoyed the podcast, even though I feel really ambiguous about my identity at the moment.  I still identify myself as Mormon, but feel that the mainstream LDS church has no real use for me.  I have diligently tried to be an intellectual for the last 10 years or so, but it is becoming increasingly unclear (to me) whether there is any place for me in academia either (as jobs in my humanities field evaporate).  I often feel like I have lost all of my anchors: I was too intellectual (for good or ill) to be a good Mormon, and too Mormon (again for good or ill) to be a good intellectual.  No matter where I turn, it seems Jesus is constantly spewing me from his mouth.  If I weren’t Mormon (which at my age means being married with young children), I think I might just retire to a wilderness somewhere and eke out an existence as some kind of hermit.

    • Hjyoung
      July 13, 2011 at 6:08 am

      Hermes,

      Your post resonates with me. One way I have found to alleviate some of the sense of abandonment is through journal writing. I have found that my earlier entries in my journal are not unlike conversations with a good friend. Hope that’s not too discouraging.

      • July 15, 2011 at 10:38 pm

        I like writing, too.  Thanks for reminding me.

    • Mike S
      July 15, 2011 at 3:33 am

      I’ve been talking with my shrink about this, and for me I feel like it breeds confrontation on both fronts (both academic and church). My shrink is silent on the issue, but I think through talking it out with her (more like at her really) that I’m going embrace the confrontation. I’ve also been blessed with a number of friends who also feel this way and so I have a sort of support group within my communities (both ward and stake, and one academic colleague who I can relate to although he is not and never was Mormon). For me the question has become how to shape the seemingly constant confrontational process that I’ve chosen to take up, and how to be comfortable with what sometimes feels like an attack on my character from both sides.

      • July 15, 2011 at 10:36 pm

        Thanks!  For me, I think it comes back fundamentally to issues of trust.  I grew up thinking I could trust the church to embrace truth and have a place for people with truth, including weird truth that did not really fit the common mold.  When experience taught me that I could not trust the church this way, that it had been playing me with an illusion of opportunities that did not really exist (realistically, for me), then I panicked and began to examine my relationships with other institutions (especially the academy, where I spend far too much time working on a dissertation that may never see the light of day).  

        I quickly realized that the academy was playing me in ways similar to the church, encouraging me to qualify myself for jobs that aren’t really there (and deriding me all the while for not being prepared enough, ever).  Just like the church, the university pretends to offer a universal, valuable product in a friendly, helpful environment.  But people who fail to use the product “properly” (i.e. end up flipping burgers instead of teaching philosophy at Princeton) are actually punished, rejected (sometimes very harshly) as losers (apostates) who could not hack it (do the righteous Mormon dance).  I have seen friends have their fragile egos chewed up and spit back in their faces by profs who didn’t know what to tell them.  I have seen people with abundant qualifications lose their place.  I have seen people get all excited and overwrought about what seem to me like parlor games (pretending we understand the nature of the universe and can bend it, or at least all our distinguished colleagues, to our will).  The closest thing I have to steadfast friends in academia are older profs who never published or networked much (they were too busy living real lives), and one or two well-connected folk who seem to expect more from me than I know how to give.  (“You’ll be fine, just crank out a few articles every other year for the next 50, and re-write those 300 pages you did for me.”)  I am not sure what will happen if/when I am not up to scratch.  I have no surety that I won’t end up excoriated like my friends.  I wish I could just settle into a groove and focus on work without always having to watch my back, at church (where I am an evil know-it-all) and at school (where I am a hopeless ignoramus). 

  17. Aaron T.
    July 1, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Awesome podcast.  Dan, you guys are doing an outstanding job.  

  18. Jacob Brown
    July 2, 2011 at 1:38 am

    Great discussion. I really enjoyed reading through the links provided. Leonard Arrington’s article is so foreign sounding to someone like me that grew up in the Gordon B. Hinckley era of the church. I wish I would have known about him a long time ago. Stan Larson seemed a little snooty in his article when he seemed to be complaining about Jan Shipps being included. That’s the bad side of tribalism in Mormonism. Armand Mauss sounded very prescriptive and preachy in his article about surviving as an intellectual.

    I’m not sure I agree that only insiders working behind the scenes have had any significant impact on the church. I think there are many disaffected, disfellowshipped, and excommunicated who I think have had a significant impact on the direction of the church. They have the potential of any other martyr even though the heirarchy does there best to make sure we don’t know about them or that we think very lowly of them.

    We need good people everywhere pushing for positive change. I can see the temptation to dismiss the influence of those who have been cutoff by the institition when you are personally trying to navigate the role of a less disruptive mover and shaker. However, I see potential in both approaches.

  19. Kristine Haglund
    July 2, 2011 at 3:24 am

    Jacob, I think I agree with you–it’s the nature of blog comments, alas, to be reductive. People who stand up and get exed or otherwise shunned for it do have an impact–there’s no _Rough Stone Rolling_ without JS and the Magic World View and Mormon Enigma. The bounds of the discursive universe are changed by blatant transgression, not necessarily because the universe expands, but because the edges get a little fuzzy and leave the “insiders” a little more breathing room. I think I’d still argue that insiders can have some influence without the folks who leave, but that the ones who leave don’t have much impact unless there are folks on the inside who mediate between the center and the far margins.

    But that is to speak only at a cold, institutional level. At the personal level, the contributions of the “martyrs” are immense–I can be patient (well, sometimes, anyway) IN the Church precisely because Margaret Toscano and Lavina Fielding Anderson and Linda Newell and Valeen Avery and Maxine Hanks risked everything to imagine a Mormonism that could include the likes of me. I regard it as a gift of grace that I’m the beneficiary of their sacrifices, rather than the one called to pay the price that they did.

  20. Kristine Haglund
    July 2, 2011 at 3:26 am

    Oh, and I don’t think Stan was complaining about Jan being included, nor would anyone I know object to her being included in the “tribe,” but SHE would very much dislike being called a “Mormon intellectual,” since she has her own faith to which she is deeply committed.

  21. ryan love
    July 3, 2011 at 9:36 am

    the whole referring to yourself as an intellectual thing was kind of laughable.  

  22. Ubik1967
    July 7, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    An amazing group therapy session that includes some great minds. I do wonder how much the better the world would be if you did not have to spend so much time coming to terms with the deceptive abuse of your childhoods and the resulting dissonance it has created in your minds.

    Really – I admire your minds and wish you well.

    I am, however, more great-full then ever that I will not be allowing my children to be raised with these Mormon memes embedded deep in there minds. Ideas (no matter how ridiculous) planted young and deep enough cannot be removed it seems. The attempt to deal with them (such as this session) sometimes reminds me of the babbling’s of an insane person desperately trying to keep it together.

  23. Virginia
    July 28, 2011 at 1:01 am

    Towards the end, Boyd mentioned that he’d taught a lesson on religious writing, with two pieces from Jeffrey Holland.  I was wondering if he (or anyone else) knew off hand what those writings were.  It was an excellent podcast.  Thanks!

    • Boyd Petersen
      July 28, 2011 at 5:53 am

      Hi Virginia:

      I had the students do a rhetorical analysis–trying to figure out as much as they could about the author, the audience, the purpose, etc. and I used two unattributed quotes from Elder Holland. The first was a bit from his conference address of Oct. 2009 called “Safety for the Soul,” found here:

      http://lds.org/general-conference/2009/10/safety-for-the-soul?lang=eng&query=holland+book+mormon+hyrum

      and the abstract from his dissertation, Mark Twain’s Religious Sense: The Viable Years — 1835-1883, Ph.D. Dissertation, Yale University, 1973.

      Students guessed right off that the first piece was by Elder Holland, but they assumed the second piece was by someone who was not religious but not really antagonistic to religion. It was an aha moment for most of them.

  24. Virginia
    July 28, 2011 at 1:01 am

    Towards the end, Boyd mentioned that he’d taught a lesson on religious writing, with two pieces from Jeffrey Holland.  I was wondering if he (or anyone else) knew off hand what those writings were.  It was an excellent podcast.  Thanks!