Monday, January 14, 2008

Should Mormons learn philosophy?

I am in my mid-30s. I have been an LDS missionary, a graduate of LDS seminary and later of Brigham Young University. I am active and participatory in Church, including Sunday School. I seek learning out of the best books, as the Lord advised in revelation.

So what to make of the fact that, until 20 minutes ago, I did not know the definition of "ontological?" I had to lean on my dictionary.

It's probably a basic word for a "traditional" Christian. Refers to being. As in the Trinitarian "ontological" unity of God. God is one in being.

I still don't understand how this concept is understood. What is the traditional Christian concept of "being"?

We are told as Latter-day Saints that the early Christian Church stumbled when it stepped off the rock of revelation and attempted to engage its intellectual tormentors in their own philosophical language. Thus words like "homeostasis," "essence," and the aforementioned "ontological" came into play, to try to make primitive Christianity agree with the Hellenic notions of a passionless, bodiless Prime Mover.

The Church does not want to make that mistake again. So the learning bloc on Sunday is kept as simple as possible, bereft of such terms. Every official Church gathering that I know of, keeps to those same rules.

But shouldn't the average Latter-day Saint at least be able to understand the terminology of his or her modern colleagues in Christianity? At least be able to say, "Here's the LDS response to the doctrine of one divine essence"?

We need to learn the words and how to respond to them. That is my opinion. We may find that we agree with other Christians more than we thought in some areas, and they might be able to realize that as well. We will find other areas in which we still sharply disagree. But at least we will be able to understand each other.

8 comments:

pepektheassassin said...

Hi, Cliff. Sometimes it seems as if you are alone, shouting into the void, doesn't it?

Your question about Mormons/Philosophy: I am no great intellectual--but sometimes the Church's keep it simple, stupid attitude annoys me. We miss out on so much that is good and true that others have to offer us. My Mormon neighborhood book group sticks pretty strictly to LDS books (many which are no great intellectual challenge). We have, in my ward, a number of excellent musicians, who might play a little Bach,(who wrote tons of music for church performance, for instance) who are encouraged to "stick with the hymns." Most of the poetry I hear quoted in RS stinks. We are, as a whole, (at least in the USA) a pretty intellectually inbred group. Though, here, I must add that my oldest son graduated from BYU with straight A's, and let his philosophy classes railroad him right out of the CHurch.

So. What d'you think? In a normal, everyday church setting, should we reach for the lowest common denominator, aim our sacrament meetings and RS classes, etc (as most newspapers do) toward a sixth grade mentality? We lost a lot of good people in that big round-up and excommunication a few years back....Lavina Fielding Anderson, Avraham Giliadi (who has since been welcomed back), to name just two.

What are your thoughts?

eastcoastdweller said...
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eastcoastdweller said...
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Clifford said...

Pepek:

My first thoughts are: THANK YOU! Thank you for breaking the silence on this blog!

As per your question, I think we Latter-day Saints are intelligent enough to handle a little more meat in our regular meetings.

They certainly weren't afraid of it in the early days of the Church -- just look at some of the hymns they wrote and the talks that were given. Hie to Kolob, anyone?

January 24, 2008 11:57 AM


The gospel is so incredible, so profound, so amazing, that one could spend a lifetime and never grow tired of it or learn even more than a fraction of it.

And that is without getting caught up in those tread-lightly mysteries we are warned about.

I might not understand it all, but I would love to hear a talk in sacrament that actually dared approach the DNA controversy about the Lamanites, by someone who knew enough to explain it properly to laymen.

Or how about the intricate structure of the Book of Mormon, beyond the well-worn concept of chiasmus?

Why not teach us all a few very basic Hebrew words, to help us feel closer to the ancient prophets who wrote them? "Good," for example, or "love" or "create?"

Why not familiarize the congregation with the reality that "Alma" is an actual Hebrew male name, rediscovered in a cave in Israel in the 20th century?

Sure, we need lessons on faith, love and prayer. But Joseph Smith managed to share those kinds of lessons right along with a whole lot of other information.

pepektheassassin said...

I'm with you. But to their credit, many in the church are reading CS Lewis. A good start.

BTW, my son' membership is still in the church, but he doesn't go. Wouldn't even come to his brother's farewell or homecoming. He now goes with his wife and baby to a Welsh church, very tiny...they sing 2 verses in English and 2 in Welsh. There are NO other children, and they are the youngest in the little congregation. They are learning the language over the internet. He goes, he says, as a "cultural experience."

pepektheassassin said...

Oh, and that is my favorite song!

Clifford said...

It's definitely one of the greatest!

pepektheassassin said...

And they sang it in our sacrament meeting this morning! And I was home, sick....

Go figure.