Thursday, February 23, 2006

Western Academia vs. "Spirit-does-all laziness"

Ronan expressed frustration with an attitude that many people have in the church that they don't need to study the gospel. The Spirit can manifest the truth to them and they are satisfied. Or even, they believe their parents or leaders know and so it sufficient for them to simply have faith in the testimony of people that they love.

Ronan was actually recommending the reading of Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling, even for a person who has a testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Prophet Joseph Smith, "simply because I despise this kind of Spirit-does-all laziness." Because of a post I wrote yesterday on our other blog, I saw this comment in the light of colonialism in Africa.

The European colonialists believed that they had a better way of life than the primitive natives and so they imposed much of their society upon the indigenous peoples of that continent. For example, the concept of a nation-state was overlaid on a society deeply ingrained in tribal philosophy. Trying to gather many, often enmity-ridden, tribes together into a single nation proved to be a very difficult and bloody affair that still remains unsettled to this day.

As problems in Africa worsened, the solution seemed obvious to Westerners: education. However, according to an article by Theodore Dalrymple, the addition of education to the culture has failed to permeate the previously held culture of tribalism. Instead it gave people a vehicle to get to positions of power where they could exploit other members of their nation for the benefit of their tribe. The underlying culture was too deeply ingrained for education in a single generation to have the desired (by Westerners) effect.

The intention was noble and benevolent, but the effect was surprising to the colonialists because they were working from a different set of assumptions that didn't hold up in this new world.

Would we make the same mistake in Mormonism? Would we seek to impose the life of the mind on those with a pure belief of the heart? I was about to write "pure and simple belief," but thought that might sound condescending. But then, that only shows my own bias toward learning that I should fear that the word "simple" would be understood as pejorative.

In spite of all the language and urging of Joseph Smith on the importance of intelligence and knowledge in coming to God, I am wondering if such a path might be inappropriate for many people on the earth today because of the cultural history they carry with them. To be sure, I believe that all must eventually come to knowledge, but I suspect that it is entirely acceptable if we come to that knowledge in the next life because we were unable to do so in this life.


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  • Good post Bradley.

    You said: In spite of all the language and urging of Joseph Smith on the importance of intelligence and knowledge in coming to God, I am wondering if such a path might be inappropriate for many people on the earth today because of the cultural history they carry with them.

    My quibble here is that you are assuming that the intellignce spoken of in the revelations is something different than the "pure belief of the heart" you spoke of earlier. I suspect this is not necessarily so...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/23/2006 10:27 AM  

  • Nice response, Bradley. That was one of the more arrogant things I have written, so I'm glad you picked me up on it :)

    I'm a post-post-colonial Brit, so I'm now inclined to see some of the good things that empire wrought. For example, today's India has benefited from its colonial heritage for sure, although I suppose one can wonder at what cost. (In other words, India-as-world's-biggest-democracy owes a lot to Britain, but that would be cold comfort to those who suffered under British rule, I know.)

    So, I'm not going to give your analogy a free pass although I think mine is problematic too.

    I always think back to the School of the Prophets at times like this. If learning Hebrew (and substitute any intellectual endeavour here) was necessary for a prophet who conversed with God and was a "seer," then it's necessary for me.

    Thanks for reading!

    By Blogger Ronan, at 2/23/2006 10:28 AM  

  • Geoff, I was trying to say that I think there is a difference between the need to "study it out" (like the translation of the plates) and the unchallenging belief (like the illiterate farmer that believes without reading.)

    Accepting the legitimacy of this unchallenging belief really goes against my own instincts. I think education and study is really important. I have the same bias that I saw in Ronan's original comment. It is only because I'd recently read the other article that I questioned my assumption.

    Ronan, I almost included something about you being British, but I didn't want the focus of the post to be picking on you, so I cut it. :)

    I got to thinking about a friend of mine that is reading RSR. She said that her mother, a former temple matron, would hate the book and would probably stop reading as soon as she realized the types of things that are in the book. My reaction to hearing that was very negative. But then I thought of people like my grandmother who is so sweet and nice and can say the most racist things without thinking about it. People just have a lot of cultural heritage and I'm trying to learn to be slower to judge people for it.

    Someday we'll all learn the facts, but some people just aren't ready for it yet--and blissfully so. Who can argue with righteous bliss?

    By Blogger Bradley Ross, at 2/23/2006 1:25 PM  

  • I have been contemplating Mormon Spirituality lately, and will probably post my findings on my blog soon. It seems to me that the key to Mormon Spirituality is generally community building and specifically service to others. I don't know if "intellectualism" has much to do with coming to God. We are saved by faith, not by book learnin'. On the other hand, I think that study is essential to understanding HOW to become more like God.

    By Blogger Jettboy, at 2/24/2006 10:36 PM  

  • I loved RSR. I believe that every Latter-Day Saint ought to be thrilled to obtain any pebble of truth regardless of its source.

    But I also believe that "book learnin'" needs to be corroborated by the Spirit to be understood to be actual truth. Richard Bushman does a wonderful job of pulling together disparate sources into a history, but he acknowledges the shortcomings of this type of endeavor.

    There were a few things in RSR that bothered me, but I have been able to get personal clarification from the Spirit on some of them. And on others, the Spirit has assured me that all will be answered in due time. I'm willing to be patient.

    Does everyone need the intellectual conversion we're talking about here? At some point yes. In fact, I believe we should all seek it. Should everyone have faith strong enough to handle information that might go against the grain of their thinking? That would be nice, but not everyone is there.

    I do not see the process of gaining personal revelation as a *lazy* process. While I believe intellectual conversion is essential, I also believe personal revelation trumps that process because it comes from the purest source.

    By Blogger Scott Hinrichs, at 2/27/2006 7:24 AM  

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