One of the recurring themes I see in Bloggernacle discussion is what I call the intimidation factor: people prefacing their comments with "I haven’t read X or Y, but…" or "I’m new to the idea of X, but…" or similar disclaimers. Worse, I frequently read comments or emails where people disqualify themselves from discussions with thoughts like "I don’t feel like I can contribute… I’m not very educated or well-read compared to the others."
Is this a valid concern when discussing gospel topics?
As usual, I feel the answer to this question is outside of a simple yes or no.
Our religion sets few minimum requirements for salvation — you must comprehend the Atonement through the Spirit, make a baptismal covenant, and endure to the end. No literacy demands, no study seems required to make it to Heaven. If, then, we say that the uneducated can be saved and acheive a celestial glory, what grounds do we have for excluding them, purposely or otherwise, from discussions about the Gospel? It seems to me that we cannot in good faith require people to know very much about the Church, its history or its workings. That seems frustrating on some levels, but any other standard would seem to interfere with Christ’s injunction, "come unto me."
That said, in the Bloggernacle we are talking about all sorts of different conversation. Some are rooted in personal narrative and exploration; others are doctrinal exposition. Let’s pick an example of a topic, and try to figure out what the appropriate level of knowledge is and why. Say, polygamy.
First, a participant must know what polygamy is, and why it is relevant to the Church. This means a basic vocabulary and a rough understanding of Church history. So far, so good — most online mormons qualify, I think. What else shall we require for a nice, fun discussion on polygamy? Obviously, we’re not going to require personal experience (though that would make for a juicy thread!). Will we require that the person know the scriptural basis for polygamy (i.e, the D&C and O.T. scriptures on point)? That seems fair, but optional, since we rarely use the scriptures in our blog posts :). Will we require that a participant have read various texts on Church history and/or polygamy? Which ones — Our Heritage? In Sacred Loneliness? We can’t require someone to have read everything written on the topic, but clearly some knowledge would be helpful — so now we are talking about distinctions of degree of literacy.
In my mind, such a distinction is ultimately meaningless. Will literacy help us arrive at new conclusions or come up with new and better ideas or arguments? Possibly, but in the domain of a gospel conversation, it seem to me that the best ideas and arguments will come when people write their honest impressions, or their personal experiences when infused by the Spirit. In other words, education is helpful because it can inform our impressions, but as always it is what’s inside that counts. The best arguments and ideas will always come from creative minds that know how to find out the good, tough questions and pursue them doggedly, and with the Spirit.
I’m not sure where all this leads me. Curiously, I don’t mind saying that there are certain minimums of study and preparation in order to participate in Gospel-related intellectual exercises. However, we need to do a better job at seeking out and encouraging good ideas regardless of their source.