I have again been thinking about how scholarship and Mormonism meshes together. (Yes, again. I’m the blogging equivalent of Chopsticks.) In particular, I’ve been thinking about the intersection between “secular” potentially-faith-caustic Biblical scholarship and core Mormon beliefs. How does one walk away safely from that kind of train wreck, when irresistable force strikes an immovable object?
Though I don’t have a fully-developed strategy at this point, I think “surviving” requires some compartmentalization, learning to live with ambiguity, and realizing that for many questions, if not most, we do not have sufficient data to make final answers.
Of course, I am not the first to wrestle with these things, and the thought that I am not alone in walking the path is comforting. I stand upon the shoulders of others in more ways than one. These people are role models of sorts, because they have neither flinched from scholarship by taking the Ostrich Approach, nor have they completely given up their faith in capitulation to scholarly interpretations.
Stephen Robinson expresses this last sentiment well in a polemical article. “…the Church of the Scholars is no less authoritarian than the traditional faith. It merely seeks to subject its believers to a more rational authority-Âto replace the “tyranny” of the Brethren with the tyranny of the intellectuals. But such a faith would not be faith at all. The problem with scholarly religion, religion that has been carefully trimmed so that it conflicts with no empirical data, is that it inevitably makes scholarship the religion.”
To whom do I look as scholarly LDS role models? Here’s a shortlist. (This whole post was prompted by discussion of #2, Carlfred Broderick, at T&S.)
1) Brigham H. Roberts, the Defender of the Faith. If you haven’t read his biography, I recommend it. Roberts studied, debated, argued, wrote extensively (perhaps you’ve heard of the six-volume Comprehensive History of the Church?) and played devil’s advocate at times. Roberts embodied the method of scholarship, even if not formally a scholar himself. Morever, he once went in disguise (picture at left) to reclaim the bodies of two missionaries killed by mobs. The disguise was necessary because they threatened to kill anyone who came for the bodies. In doing so, Roberts achieves a physical representation of his mental acuity- rough, tough, and not afraid of anything.
My favorite line from Roberts comes from an Ensign article about him. “I am taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken but unshakeable in the Book of Mormon, and therefore we can look without fear upon all that can be said against it.” Though some have argued that he lost his faith towards the end of his life, I’m not convinced.
2) Like Roberts, not a Biblical scholar, Carlfred Broderick was formally-trained at Harvard and Columbia, where he received his PhD. I stumbled over his The Core of My Faith, and realized that I wanted to emulate him in several ways. He faithfully documents his experiences with (perceived) black-listing by Church leaders, difficult questions of Church history and doctrine, and comes out with testimony intact. I’ve sent his story out with each of my brothers when they leave on missions, particularly for his example of how to deal with perceived or real interpersonal unfairness in the Church.
3) Though it may embarrass him, I can’t leave Kevin Barney off my short list. Kevin also is not a formally trained Biblical scholar, but a lawyer. It was my felicitous discovery of his Dialogue article on the Documentary Hypothesis (or Source Criticism, Higher Criticism, or the Graff-Wellhausen hypothesis, all terms for the same thing) that convinced me I could go to graduate school and not go off the deep end, so to speak.
The content of the article was important to me, but the clear methodology also made an impact on my thought processes. When confronted with a difficult issue, one gathers data and weighs the “for and against” of different approaches and interpretations before making tentative conclusions. One should also ask, what is at stake in each conclusion in terms of core LDS beliefs? Acceptance of the basic idea of Old Testament source criticism, I decided, does little to undermine any core LDS beliefs.
Kevin also has a distinct advantage over the other two on this list, in that he’s not dead 🙂 Though we have some disagreements, as is inevitable, I’ve appreciated interacting with him on the FAIR email list, the blogs, and in person.
The examples these people (and those unmentioned) have provided for me have gone a long way in helping me wrestle with that treasure trove of troubling issues, the Old Testament.