May I assure our colleagues at BCC that the team of bloggers that Dialogue is fielding is not designed to overwhelm this site with our posts but, given the multitude of other duties that distract us, simply to assure that we make at least one appearance a week. It goes without saying that it is my turn this week.
For my purposes today I will clarify that what I assert about the Bloggernacle also applies to all kinds of computer-based Internet communication, including not only blogs, wikis, and podcasts but also email groups, chat rooms, and instant messaging. My recent introduction to blogging has led me back to a hypothesis that I formulated about a decade ago when I first began to participate in email groups. People who inveterately communicate via the Internet on topics devoted to a treatment of Mormonism that is affirmative or at least respectfully objective tend to be, or eventually turn into, liberal Mormons. Or, to put it more softly, since the term “liberal” has acquired a pejorative connotation among the vast majority of Latter-day Saints, they are or tend to become Liahona Saints.
The term “Liahona Saint” was coined by Richard D. Poll in an essay, “What the Church Means to People Like Me,” published in Dialogue in 1967, only a year after its founding. In his articulate, gently persuasive essay, Poll also coined a term for another kind of Mormon, the “Iron Rod Saint.” Both figures come, or course, from the Book of Mormon, the Iron Rod being a figure in a dream of Lehi and the Liahona being a compass which God provided Lehi and his party in their travel towards a new land. Poll pointed out that there was a degree of opposition between the two figures, just as there is a degree of opposition between the two kinds of Latter-day Saints whom the figures represent: “To the person with his hand on the rod, each step of the journey to the tree of life was plainly defined; he had only to hold on as he moved forward….The Liahona, in contrast, was a compass. It pointed to the destination but did not fully mark the path; indeed, the clarity of its directions varied with the circumstances of the user.”
The two images stand for differing approaches to Scripture, said Poll. “Do the revelations of our Heavenly Father give us a handrail to the kingdom, or a compass only? The Iron Rod Saint does not look for questions, but for answers, and in the Gospel–as he understands it–he finds or is confident that he can find the answer to every important question. The Liahona Saint, on the other hand, is preoccupied with questions and skeptical of answers; he finds in the Gospel–as he understands it–answers to enough important questions so that he can function purposefully without answers to the rest” (108). Obviously, Poll identifies himself as a Liahona Saint. But he also confirms the validity of the Iron Rod Saint, emphasizing that both the Iron Rod Saint and the Liahona Saint are “involved Church members who are/…each deeply committed to the Gospel…” (107-108).
As I say, I believe that the persons who create, comment on, or otherwise frequent the Bloggernacle are on the whole Liahona Saints. I’m not sure that all of them know they are Liahona Saints. It is entirely possible that a generation of young, thoughtful Latter-day Saints have grown up without meeting the term.
Given that the Bloggernacle consists of numerous blogsites (the precise number depending on who is counting), I could refer to any number of blogs to substantiate that its frequenters are Liahona Saints. To keep things brief, I will refer to a couple of posts on BCC.
On October 25, Ronan James Head posted a blog consisting of several questions for a Catholic friend and of answers from that friend (“Questions for a Catholic: Part I.”) The questions were blunt, reflecting common Latter-day Saint conceptions of Catholicism. Later commentators also posted questions. The Catholic friend answered with good humor, yet he proved unyielding in defense of his faith. Obviously, he was as sincere and as steady in his convictions as his Latter-day Saint counterparts. My take on the questions, the answers, and the comments of readers was that they added up to an ecumenical exchange that promoted respect and good will among persons of differing religious traditions. It was the kind of exchange one of the founders of Dialogue, Eugene England, called for in the first issue of the fledgling journal in 1966. “We must truly listen to each other,” Gene wrote, “respecting our essential brotherhood and the courage of those who try to speak, however they may differ from us in professional standing or religious belief or moral vision” (“The Possibility of Dialogue: A Personal View,” 1, no. 1 [Spring, 1966]:10).
Another post that illustrates my point was posted on BCC by Karen Hall on July 29. (“Keep Sweet“) Karen reports having watched a TV documentary about a polygamous woman and her children who had escaped from an abusive polygamous marriage. Feeling uneasy over the contribution her own polygamous ancestors may have made to a pathologically subordinated role for women, Karen argues that “submissiveness, in a spiritual sense is not a female trait, and therefore it seems illogical that it should be so closely related to femininity.” Having brought up femininity, Karen poses the crucial question of her blog: “…what is femininity? And once defined, what is its value? Is femininity a necessary spiritual trait? Outside the realm of sexual attractiveness, is it even a worthwhile trait?”
Over a two day period responses to the blog grew to thirty-three comments, some of them profound and searching, others lighter and more personal, all of them making for variety and interest. For example, Comment 20, posted by Heather, begins: “I see femininity as a myriad of positive attributes often first associated with women, but I don’t see femininity as a weakness. Rather, when used properly–like any trait which can be handled for good or ill–femininity gives women strength.” Taken in its entirety, this blog–Karen’s original statement and the varied responses–adds up to intelligent discourse of a high order.
I think Richard Poll, had he lived to look in on the blogging world, would agree with my assessment of the foregoing blogs. However, I am not sure he would support my hypothesis as a general truth. It is easy to point to Internet groups who use its speedy communication to advance a starkly conservative or even anti-intellectual intent. Yet it is my conviction (based on faith, perhaps) that over the long haul discourse liberalizes. If Latter-day Saints engage in a persistent exchange of ideas, they evolve spiritually. So I believe that the denizens of that particular part of cyberspace called the Bloggernacle are, generally speaking, true Liahona Saints.