I don’t know how many of you read the transcript of Richard Bushman’s talk up at Weber State. If you haven’t you really should. It’s very well written and really makes one think. I’d really like to comment on one paragraph that really stood out to me. It was the question Helen Whitney from last year’s PBS special The Mormons asked but couldn’t get a satisfactory answer to.
“What is it that you have to say that can be used by the rest of the world?”
Quoting from Bushman,
She didn’t mean “join us, become a part of the Church.” She meant “What perspective on the world do you have to offer?” Mormons think they have all sorts of perspectives on the world, these are of immense value. But no one communicated with Helen Whitney. She just couldn’t find anything. She talked to Terryl Givens, she talked to me, she talked to Kathleen Flake, she talked to all sorts of Mormon scholars in many, many situations, and none of us could give her an answer that was persuasive and won her heart. And so nothing of that, the meaning of Mormonism, got into her TV show. That’s the direction in which I think Mormon intellectuals should now turn their attention.
Bushman suggests that what Mormonism offers is a theodicy. While the Mormon answer there, based upon a God within the universe and who doesn’t create ex nihilo. But is that fully satisfactory? That is do we really provide a justification of the ways of God? I’m not sure we do.
Certainly we resolve the logical problem of evil. A God who creates and maintains all existence clearly is responsible for existence and its nature in a way that a God who is a part of existence does not. Yet the reason many question is not because of some abstract question of evil but the question of the evils each of us experiences. Not just the every day slights but the hurricanes, the disease, the aches and pains as our body malfunctions or is injured. Even explaining away many evils due to free will isn’t ultimately helpful.
Perhaps to other religious believers we can offer a lot. I think creation ex nihilo is one of the biggest mistakes made in religion. I understand why the doctrine developed. But I think it ends up being unhelpful in many, many ways.
So let me ask you, is the greatest perspective we can offer is our view of a God who is within and alongside the universe rather than the ontological “first cause” “God of the philosophers?” Perhaps it is.
But are we communicating it very well?
And is it something people want?