(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this link, click here.) When I was at BYU, and was in a mandated religion class, we had a teacher, somewhere between 60 and 160, (I’ve long forgotten his name) who liked to stray beyond the regular curriculum. During one diversion, he strayed into apostasy from the LDS Church. It was his personal, confidently stated opinion that every single case of apostasy derived from a sin of morality committed by the apostate.
Even then, roughly 25 years ago, I knew what the teacher said was nonsense. And I did what I always do when I hear some ridiculous doctrine stated from the lectern or the pulpit. I recognize it as foolishness and go on with my faith, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
You hear a lot of folk doctrine in the Mormon faith, despite the bureaucracy’s best efforts to stifle it. Whether it’s the White Horse Doctrine, the ubiquitous Three Nephites, the mandate against white sugar or the Mormon version of The Rapture, you get used to it.
Nearly all folk theology is relatively harmless if you just recognize it as such. Folk theology often thrives on the doctrine of straining against the gnats. Once I was advised that if I don’t memorize everything I’ve been instructed to say in an LDS temple ceremony, then I’ve got things to worry about in the hereafter. Nevertheless, I’m still indebted to those good senior temple volunteers who bail me out when I do an endowment.
Sometimes, ignorant theology can be harmful. Denunciations of teens who masturbate is more harmful than helpful. However, like many LDS deacons, I grew up reading “the factory book” where we were advised not to sinfully start the engine. However, that experience at least taught me what not to do now that I’m a parent.
Recently, another, ignorant theology reared its head again. A speaker grimly warned our ward congregation against “inappropriate intellectualism.” It’s a delightfully Orwellian phrase that derived from an April 1989 General Conference discourse from Glen L. Pace, Second Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, called “Follow the Prophet.” (Read) In the meat of the talk, Pace expresses concern about members who study the Gospel in order, as he puts it, to discover new uncertainties:
“One activity which often leads a member to be critical is engaging in inappropriate intellectualism. While it would seem the search for and discovery of truth should be the goal of all Latter-day Saints, it appears some get more satisfaction from trying to discover new uncertainties. I have friends who have literally spent their lives, thus far, trying to nail down every single intellectual loose end rather than accepting the witness of the Spirit and getting on with it. In so doing, they are depriving themselves of a gold mine of beautiful truths which cannot be tapped by the mind alone.”
Later in the discourse, Pace argues that if members are allowed to adhere to a church but only agree with some of its teachings, then that church will deteriorate:
“There are some of our members who practice selective obedience. A prophet is not one who displays a smorgasbord of truth from which we are free to pick and choose. However, some members become critical and suggest the prophet should change the menu. A prophet doesn’t take a poll to see which way the wind of public opinion is blowing. He reveals the will of the Lord to us. The world is full of deteriorating churches who have succumbed to public opinion and have become more dedicated to tickling the ears of their members than obeying the laws of God.”
Frankly, there’s really nothing Pace said that hasn’t been said many times by LDS Church leaders. The talk has gained notoriety, or admiration — depending on the reviewer — based on the unfortunate term “inappropriate intellectualism,” a phrase that makes me cringe in embarrassment. It didn’t help matters that a few years after Pace’s remarks, several LDS scholars were excommunicated from the Church due to published works which displeased church leaders. To some church critics, Pace’s remarks seem more like a warning to a few than counsel to many.
I don’t see it that way. Those excommunications of a generation ago were regrettable, and I hope those still excommunicated one day have their memberships restored, if they still wish it. In my opinion, fear of the growth of independent study of the LDS Church, due in part to the emergence of the Internet, played a part in the disciplinary action. Pace’s talk merely created a two-word cliche to criticize legitimate, important independent LDS scholarship.
However, due to Pace’s otherwise meat-and-potatoes LDS conference talk, the term “inappropriate intellectualism” is a member in good standing of ignorant theology in the Mormon Church, used most often to criticize the admirable goal of learning more about one’s faith to better understand its history and culture.