I pulled a string and Lori Levinson, Dialogue’s excellent business manager, sent me her advance copy of the Winter 2007 issue. Yours and mine will be along soon. I haven’t made it past the poetry (I usually read the poetry first and this batch is hauntingly appropriate for winter), Neal Kramer’s review of Wayne Booth’s autobiography My Many Selves (which I loved so I had to read the review- good review) and Ethan Yorgason’s interview of John Durham Peters, professor of communications theory at the U. of Iowa and branch president. I’m now too busy googling Peters.
Peters’ issues are big and broad and timely, including ineffective communication despite a media saturated society, the dark side of free expression (is finding “a little poison gas in the air a good immunization against bigger woes”?, from Courting the Abyss, p. 14) and seeking and expressing truth. Yummy stuff. I’ll be buying his books.
The interview yields such intriguing statements to the Mormon community as:
Knowledge is a religious duty for us, and truth is knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come. Here you see that knowledge is of different orders…Even in the most rigorous science… there is a social or community dimension to truth. Our faith deserves a richer conception of truth than the either/or logic we sometimes hear…
I think the role for the intellectual in the Church would be to lead in terms of Christian service…I don’t like the model of the intellectual as beacon unto the world. I think we are, like most people, selfish and self-serving and defensive of our craft.
He suggests intellectuals should paint houses for the elderly and “clear away the traps that the inquiring young will fall into. A simple-minded conception of true and false, such as that retailed by the hard-boiled culture of modern science, is not religiously productive.”
He points to Paul as an example of one “believing, modern and neighborly all at once” and for the argument “that, if you have higher knowledge, you should prove it by your higher kindness, rather than by exposing or insulting or belittling people.”
I see the blogs as fertile ground for exploring a more nuanced conception of true and false and as a place to “clear away the traps” both young and old fall into. Like many of you, I try to treat both in church teaching but our time is short and audience diverse so church becomes the place for service and community. Following Peters’ arguments, the bloggers will only be able to further valuable knowledge, to persuade positively, to the extent we are able to understand and treat kindly those who disagree with us. The gospel helps. Remembering we are siblings and the golden rule are good starting points, but then the going gets tough. How do we come to understand each other, particularly on the blogs where our conversations are impersonal and truncated?