Recognizing ignorant theology

(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.

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27 Responses to Recognizing ignorant theology

  1. Neal Cassidy says:

    It is someties difficult to progress on with your everyday life when some legislators attempt to put LDS foolishness into law.

    • Stormin Norman says:

      The truth is the church is imploding in the civilized parts of the world with internet. Members are starting to research LDS topics and are finding out Joseph Smith was a law breaker and a fraud, the BoM although inspired by much of it being copied out of the bible is fiction and the Book of Abraham shows Joseph Smith had no clue of how to translate Egyptian. ( JS was actually the “least likely person” God or anyone else would chose to restore the True church of anyone except the Devil!

  2. Preston says:

    Doug, do you think you’re going to convince God? He’s not impressed by arguments, but only by the actual state of your faith, and it’s pretty clear what’s happening to it.

  3. Jim Wright says:

    Perhaps this is falling into “Mugwump” territory, but it seems to me the current state of the Church is that there are some bright lines, the crossing of which properly invites scrutiny. Challenging the official doctrine of the faith is one such bright line. Questioning the wisdom of ill conceived defenses of the faith is not. If adhering to the official doctrine of the Church, even while not fully understanding all of the implications of the doctrine, will lead me to eternal joy with my family, then I am content to have a few questions on the shelf. As a geologist friend once said: When I die the first question I’m going to ask is-how old is the earth-really? I think he had the right attitude.

    • Lasvegasrichard says:

      Adhering without understanding falls under the catagory of self induced brainwashing by ignorance . If you ever don’t KNOW , it’s incumbent upon yourself to do so .

  4. PolishandProud says:

    So when Boyd K Packer proclaims that the enemies of the church are “Feminists. homosexulas and intellectuals” how do you rationalize that?

    • D. Michael Martindale says:

      Easy. Packer is an idiot.

      • LMA says:

        Well, it’s easy to be smug and dismissive, isn’t it? So much fun too. What you might consider doing, first of all, is to see if Elder Packer ever made the statement attributed to him (using quotation marks). Then you might comment on what he actually said, as opposed to the caricature.

        But perhaps your comment wasn’t intended as a response to the quotation attributed to Elder Holland, but just your opinion of him in the abstract, divorced from anything he might be claimed to have said. That would be about typical. After all, we know from your many hundreds of similar comments that you have just an enormous quantity of self-regard, which allows you to pass these judgments on others. You have so much self-regard, in fact, that you ought to consider exporting some of it to other nations, where it may be in shorter supply. Not to worry: you would still have plenty left over for yourself.

        • Jennifer says:

          “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.”

          Boyd K. Packer (Talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council, May 18, 1993).

          • LMA says:

            Oh good. An actual quote. This is progress. So you can see how the actual quotation is different from the first version cited here, leading the smug and self-righteous to say what the smug and self-righteous generally say. To delve further into the differences between the thought and the caricature of the thought, you would have to begin to discuss the context of Elder Packer’s remarks regarding the dangers cited and what he suggested be done in response. Context would also place the remarks in time (as you have done, thank you) nearly 20 years ago.

            If I had to pick my favorites among the sitting apostles, Elder Packer would not be high on my list. But that becomes a matter of style and emphasis. Tossing off a remark like “he’s an idiot” is unworthy, to say the least, albeit typical for those possessing an excess of self-regard. And attributing someone else’s tendentiously distorted version of a speaker’s remarks to the speaker – even using quotation marks – is just malicious.

  5. Neal Humphrey says:

    I was a regular practitioner of inappropriate intellectualism right up to the day the High Council of the Pasadena Stake excommunicated me some thirty years ago.

    These days I get paid to practice inappropriate intellectualism.

  6. Marshall says:

    Great post. I think that’s a great way to approach this stuff.

  7. manaen says:

    Much of the discussion of this subject would evaporate into the morning air if people were more familiar with the LDS Church’s statement of what is and what is not its authoritative doctrine.

    As posted on its website,
    “Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency (the prophet and his two counselors) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest governing body of the Church) counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith (emphasis added). Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.”

    Here’s the link to the entire statement:

    So, the Church says that anything not in the standard works of scripture, official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith is not the Church’s binding, authoritative doctrine. My rule of thumb is: something is authoritative when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says it is and it is not authoritative if the Church does not say it is.

    This includes:
    * Statements by Church leaders in General Conference
    * Church manuals
    * Articles in Church magazines
    * Journal of Discourses
    * Papers by BYU professors
    * Heartfelt testimonies about a particular subject by members
    * The blogs collectively known as “The Bloggenacle”
    * Recruiting statements by BYU’s coaches
    * etc.

    • Lasvegasrichard says:

      That pretty much sums it up . If you can’t rely on statements from leaders concerning TRUTH , why should any statement by any leader not be considered FALSE . A printed doctrine was originally a statement from a leader.

      • Erick says:

        It’s pretty much an accountability dodge. The general idea is that the leadership should be sustained as people who have better insight (Prophet’s, seers, revelators) into “what’s going on” than the rest of us, but if they turn out to be wrong just ignore that fact and the inherent contradiction.

        The natural course of this discussion is ask, “what constitutes doctrine”, but I see that discussion functioning more like technical semantic’s than anything truly meaning. I don’t care what the bureaucratic process is for defining doctrine, rather I am more concerned about what information and advise is best followed for good decision making. This statement from the Church’s website doesn’t lend a lot of confidence to the idea that we should rely on the counsel of Church leaders.

  8. Tom says:

    “…….ignorant theology……”

    Some folks would call that an oxymoron.

  9. Rex Whitmer says:

    Being most likely a bit older than the people who’ve written before me, I’ll add a bit of comment of my own to this thread. First of all, BYU instructors are not always that wise about God. I’ve known a few Bishops and even Stake Presidents who mis-quote or mis-instruct In most instances this is not the case. If you question the veracity of a belief, then seek your own revelation. Unless you are a Prophet or Apostle you cannot seek guidance for the Church as a body. I would hope that any member of the Church who finds a story, a doctrine or a position that disturbs him or her to seek your own personal revelation in the matter. When I was much younger the ward I lived in at that time had become wracked with gossip and hurt feelings. The Bishop seemed unable to effectively bring the members together. His work transfered him to another state and a man whom I felt was totally unqualified was called to fill his shoes. I took the matter to the Lord and was comforted. This new bishop stayed about two years before his company transfered him to a new city, but in those two years he was able to bring the ward back to it’s familiar closeness and love. Several years later atteneding a district meeting, I met a man who lived in the town where that Bishop had moved to and asked him about that ex-bishop who had performed so well. He was totally inactive. The Lord knows us and uses us if we are willing to try Him.

  10. Erick says:

    Comment from LMA November 20, 2012 at 8:44 AM.

    “Tossing off a remark like “he’s an idiot” is unworthy, to say the least, albeit typical for those possessing an excess of self-regard. And attributing someone else’s tendentiously distorted version of a speaker’s remarks to the speaker – even using quotation marks – is just malicious.”

    Also see the comment from LMA on November 19, 2012 at 8:51 AM, in response to Neil Humphrey’s. I believe these comments illustrate that whole mote and beam concept taught in The New Testament, ie, it’s kind of useless to criticize others for “smug” and “malicious” comments in the same blog thread where you yourself are making smug and malicious comments???? Isn’t that the epitome of self-righteousness?

    “Context would also place the remarks in time (as you have done, thank you) nearly 20 years ago.”

    Why is this alway’s the defense that everyone uses to defend embarrassing statements from Church leaders? How does realizing that this comment from Boyd K. Packer was from “20 years ago” somehow change things or make the comments “better”?

  11. MKE says:

    The Church is, and always has been, a work in process. As knowledge increases in the world, so follows many Church policies, even doctrines. If you can’t accept this, consider polygamy, and the negro and the preisthood. As the social climate changed, so did the Church. The Word of Wisdom was just ‘clarified’ to permit caffeine. The Church’s position on Gay and Lesbians has also evolved over the years. For a person who’s leaders need to be larger than life, the truth will dissapoint. The key is to anchor you testimony firmly on association with the Spirit. That is why it is given as a guide to baptized members. Things in the world, including the organization that is the Church will change, but the Spirit will always lead one through.

    • Mikeasell says:

      It’s is Totally accurate. Mormonism teaches that god is always changing doctrine, so much so that the church is charged with editing history to make it seen like he is less busy than he really is. The church is perfect and restored, this explains whyvtheyvalways change policy, practices and doctrines to align themselves with the “world” that they so revile…so you see it’s all very clear. Just do what you are told to do today and if its different than yesterday, well it’s because gos is unchanging and the requirements to enter his kingdom change very often, the explains the need forcacrstauration of his original church,chichi he never established…

  12. MKE says:

    And I should add that it is very difficult to hear the wisperings of the Spirit when your bias and personal opinion drown it out.

  13. Erick says:

    The bias argument is another common one that is given far too much credit. This appears like a legitimate argument because of course most sane people recognize that we all have a tendency to bias, and that bias can cause us to make poor choices. Yes, some people may have a bias against certain theological positions, and some of those positions may be philosophically irrational, but that’s not what your bias argument asserts. Rather, you are claiming something far more peculiar, that personal bias can cause a person to be blind to literal spiritual sensory experience. Never mind the fact that whether a spirit can “prompt” a person is a debated issue, but this bias argument ups the ante by suggesting that you can only observe this experience if you are not “biased” against it. It is all just far too tenuous of a claim for a person standing on the outside to want to give any credence to. In other words, perhaps you are right, because I am initially biased to doubt the claim that personal opinions and biases could obscure profound or significant sensory experiences.

  14. J. Hartwell says:

    I was once a true believer, but in 1974 future Prophet Ezra Taft Benson said it was impossible to be a Democrat and good Mormon. Who am I to argue with a man that said the civil rights movement, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were part of a “Communist conspiracy.”

    But I guess that was all folksy doctrinal hearsay. Right?

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