Book review: Letters to a Young Mormon, by Adam S. Miller, $8.96 at Amazon.
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” – Henry David Thoreau
What should you expect from a book that has less than 100 pages, and whose dimensions seem to be designed for a small child’s hands? Perhaps a children’s story about farm animals that talk, or visiting one’s grandparents. This book is deceptive in this way. Although the cover design and size are very diminutive, there are so many great treasures to be found therein.
Adam Miller is a professor of philosophy, who has previously written some very brilliant stuff on Mormonism. You can see some of his LDS philosophy work as free pdfs at saltpress.org.
This book is also full of philosophy. But it is taken in an entirely different direction than his other books. We live in a world of information. Every teenager has an IPhone and gets updates on the world every few seconds via texting, Facebook, Twitter, etc. We do not live in the LDS world I grew up in, where the sanitized history and teachings were not questioned, or if they were questioned, average Mormons did not have access to those questions and so lived our lives in blissful ignorance. But today’s kids live in a world of change, where media swirls around them 24/7. Our kids need a new method and philosophy that can teach them how to cope with the world, while still keeping their feet and testimonies firmly planted in gospel soil.
In a series of short letters, Adam writes on various topics the things that he feels will affect them most. He uses innovative concepts to teach his topics, yet is frank and to the point. Tthe themes and story, while related, are often related in ways we usually do not hear in Church or on Internet web sites. Adam sets things in a very unique setting.
He writes about: Agency, Work, Sin, Faith, Scripture, Prayer, History, Science, Hunger, Sex, Temples, and Eternal Life. Each topic is taken in turn, each with unexpected twists and turns that will surely satisfy a young person’s search for truth. He treats them as adults, without speaking down to them. He is faithful in truth-telling, and explains things in ways that can only increase faith and testimony.
He explains, for example, that the gospel gives us a road map (baptism, seminary, mission, temple marriage, etc), but our feet still must travel the rough road of experience. The road map tells us we must pray and read our scriptures, but we must still learn how to really communicate with God and learn about him through our own efforts over years of praying and studying. Adam explains that we all sin (and ostensbly become miserable) because we seek to write our own life story, rather than letting God write it for us.
If ever a book was written to help youth regain or find a testimony, this one is it. It does not tell them where one’s testimony is hiding. It does explain how one plants and develops a strong testimony by living the precepts of God in the right soil, in the right way, for the right purpose. It places the right kind of philosophy behind our testimonies. While discussing difficult topics, wherein the world’s philosophy is so very distinct from the LDS view, we learn how to establish a strong foundation on some very important and key principles that will help us, and especially our youth, learn how to establish a foundation of faith and to excel in that belief.
My advice? Every parent, teen, bishop and stake president should own a copy of this book. Remember the book everyone wished was given them before they had teens or were called as bishop? For parents and leaders, Letters to a Young Mormon is that book. The answers are concise, and direct. The treasures in Adam’s book do not just hack at branches (hoping youth will somehow figure it out), but directly strike root with each swing. Because of its brevity, it is a great book to read with your youth (I wish I had it when my kids were teens). I know I will share it with my grandchildren, and with those adults who struggle with life’s journey.
You can read the book excerpt from chapter 3 Sin at FairMormon: http://blog.fairmormon.org/2014/01/16/exclusive-book-excerpt-letters-to-a-young-mormon-chapter-3/