Ninety-Five Theses, or Everyone Needs a Door in Wittenberg

Ashley Sanders continues her guest posting at BCC. Her most recent previous post is here.

In 1546 1517 [Editor’s note: let’s hope this correction satisfies you nitpickers], Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. Now it’s 2008, but theses—posted or unposted—are still a good thing to have. In conversations about Mormonism, I have encountered certain platitudes repeatedly. After hearing some of them for the last bearable time, I decided to write a couple of my own theses against ideas that threaten what I see as my religion.

Here is the first, posted in a doorless manner that Luther could only have dreamed about.

Church is for the Simple:

By now, many who read my blog are familiar with my opinions on a host of religious topics, particularly the sanctity of conscience and the intellect. If you are like me, you have also probably heard the inevitable comebacks: that the Church is for the weak and simple and that intellectualizing endangers it. Most likely someone has countered your requests for an intellectually robust gospel (de-baggage the word, please) with the classic image of a penniless, illiterate widow in the slums of Manila. The conclusion is obvious: the gospel is for her. And how could we ask this poor, penniless woman for a sharp-toothed mind? How could we ask her to cut through conceptual meat when she doesn’t have meat to eat? She is barely surviving! She needs the milk of the gospel, and she needs it fast.

Maybe so. Maybe this woman’s life is so tragic and perverse that she needs to simply know that God lives and loves her. Before that, even, she needs a full stomach and something in her wallet. I believe these things. I believe them because I believe that bearers of good news should recognize the bearing capacity of their listeners; we do and should tailor the gospel message (and any other message) to the immediate needs and limitations of our audience.

But the way that people invoke the widow counter-argument frightens me because it privileges one narrative over another; it reduces the bearing capacity of one type of member to cater to the bearing capacity of another type. In essence, I believe that the way we invoke the ‘new members/penniless widow’ argument reveals more than we wish about how we value and conceive of our religion.Presumably, when we make the widow argument, we are emphasizing that each member of the Church is different and deserves unique treatment. We are also suggesting that there is a category of members—i.e. poorer, new, or less educated members—who require a different gospel message than other categories of members. Both these arguments suggest that the gospel works for everyone and that the different approaches to it will eventually merge into the same religious experience.

I disagree with both the assumptions and the likelihood of the expected outcome. I will start by explaining the latter opinion and end by explaining the former.

When we say that different kinds of religious strains will merge into a common experience, we are basically suggesting that—one fine day—a new convert will finish her glass of gospel milk and suddenly reach for the meat. Years of milk drinking, in other words, will have prepared her to stomach the heavy stuff. It also suggests that mature or experienced Church members will never eat their meat without their milk—that they will supplement their hard thinking and philosophical digestion with the basic principles of love and repentance. Sounds good in theory. The reality, however, is that we emphasize the milk so much that we effectively prohibit any movement toward the meat. To misuse an old standby, we create a milk ceiling between one level of the gospel and another—an opaque barrier that keeps us housed in horizontal rooms. Repeatedly invoking the penniless widow, we have given her no place to go when she overcomes her adjectives. We have made the gospel into a point rather than a vector with speed and direction, a dot to balance on in tiptoe rather than a moving line that takes us toward God.

The problem is that we have sacralized our limitations and made those limitations into a gospel, the good news of it being that we never have to struggle with big ideas. By doing so, we have not only insulted huge swaths of people—suggesting, condescendingly, that their poverty makes their minds impossible things—we have invented a gospel that will fail its basic principles. We have invented a gospel that is artificially self-limiting, a gospel that has come to prize self-limitation as one of its core virtues.

The obvious criticism is that this hurts the members who want more from the gospel, who are trying to live it to its fullest intellectual, ethical and theological extent. This is true; asserting an over-simplistic gospel not only decimates the argument that the gospel is for everyone (since it really caters to one type of convert); it also actively discourages thoughtful inquiry by making the thoughtful member’s virtues into vices. And so it is that it suddenly becomes proud to want more from the gospel, elitist to ask good questions, faithless to criticize, and extreme to interpret radical precepts radically. Compensating for the decline of these maligned virtues is a host of manufactured virtues geared toward survival and normalcy. And thus, bad reading becomes faith, convention becomes obedience, and preemptive certitude is humility

That provincialism hurts the non-provincial is, like I said, the obvious criticism. But this criticism itself is too narrow. To criticize naivety by invoking the rights of the sophisticated not only builds a false hierarchy of religious classism, it also assumes that intellectualism is a hobby like any other. It suggests, in others words, that some Church members like soccer, jigsaw puzzles and petty truths while other members prefer crossword puzzles, golf and thinking. The great success of any religious crusade against intellectualism is to make intellectualism into a hobby or a consequence of wealth. This crusade is especially ironic, since it is most frequently waged by people whose middle class interests require them to antagonize intellectuals to defend their hobbies and wealth. The success of this crusade is very important to vested interests, for it only after the crusade succeeds that the vested can argue away the intellectuals. Only after intellectualism is turned into an elitist hobby can people lecture intellectuals against imposing their thinking on others, as if the intellectual were asking that every new member play croquet or win at Scrabble. When thinking is seen as a hobby, a thinking gospel will seem a dangerous pastime.

But because thinking is not a hobby—because real religious life requires a tremendous amount of thought and thoughtfulness—the milk ceiling hurts more than thinkers: it hurts the whole Church and religion itself. To pretend that religion is simply a lifestyle or a regimen—to say that the signs of conversion would be a white shirt or an edited movie or the simple absence of alcohol—is to grossly misunderstand the agony, conflict and trepidation of a real religious quest. Religion as a regime won’t save anyone, and only thoughtfulness can save religion from regimen. The heart is important, yes, but the heart without the mind is a dangerous thing.

You might disagree, say: the heart is the instrument of religion! I will not argue using facile invectives against irrationality. I will say, instead, that the heart is often only as big as the ideas that house it, and it can easily keep the wrong things alive. The heart can do profound work, it’s true—it can grow straight out of a rotten ideology—but it is more often confined by the interpretive frameworks that tell it when and where and how to do its job. In the Church, we often speak as if charity were the same as love or long-suffering when it is routinely separated from those words in scriptural lists. Charity does not mean having thoughts as wide as love; charity means expanding our thoughts until they require everything from our hearts. Love is not the antidote to regimen. Only charity, seeking for truth in all places, can avoid the dangers of a preferential heart. Seeking real truth, rather than seeking allegiance, requires the mind and a most brutal consciousness.

Our missionary program tells us more about what kind of religion we value than almost any of our other institutions. And it is clear that the missionary program overwhelmingly prefers regime over mind. If the discussions are coins in the most valuable currency we have to exchange, then we are suffering from the worst kind of inflation; we can buy almost nothing with our ideas. We have decided, arbitrarily, to trade mainly in platitudes and behavior change. Dealing in sales, we produce converts that look like market products: remarkable similar, unambiguous icons of a certain belief set. There is no room in this process for the unfinished—for what cannot readily appear—and so we constrict our discussions to regimens and exclude the kind charity that overflows regimens and bounds. It is in this way that we can tell the Manila widow that we need her abstinence but not her mind, presumably because we include abstinence in what we call the core of the gospel while relegating intelligence to a waiting room. But there is a question here that is begging to get out: why is thinking not included in the core of our religion? Why is it less important than a regimen marker? Why is it something that can wait, as if it is a final embellishment or a curtsy rather than the point itself?

I believe that religion needs our minds: all of all of our minds. Without this, the religion becomes a lifestyle rather than a probing question, and charity falls to allegiance. The meat–which was never a side dish in the first place–will be perpetually deferred in the name of a new milk religion that, by deferring meat, becomes as small as the cup holding it. My next post will continue this theme, getting more specific about the consequences of deferring the mind. In the meantime, I will end this, the first of several Lutheran theses.


  1. *falls on her knees at the virtual door of the Wittenburg Chapel.*

  2. Ashley,
    I think that most people who frequent this site are of the opinion that the intellect is invaluable to their spiritual progression. Granted, there is an oversimplification in the culture of Mormonism. Most of the meat is buried under gallons of milk.
    However, I am curious as to which leaders or members are championing the notion that “the Church is for the weak and simple” and “intellectualizing endangers it.” Even Elder Packer, at the height of his infamous anti-intellectualism never limited the members of the church to weakness and simplicity. Joseph Smith himself recognized the importance of the mind: “the things of God are of deep import: and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out” (HC 3:295). If the rank and file member identifies with such simplicity, why should that matter to us?
    For those who were raised in the church, there is no escaping the milk then meat chronology. Very few members begin with meat and skip the milk. Many times, as you say, church members never leave their milky paradise and thus are deprived of the power of critical thought. While this certainly is the case, I would say that it is more by choice than by ecclesiastical constraint. Thus, the penniless convert is not limited by anyone but herself.
    I think this post would have fit in well in the October 1993 archive of BCC. However, today I see a church that is beginning to recognize the value (or at least the inexorability) of intellectualism. Characters like Hugh Nibley, Lowell Bennion, B.H. Roberts, and Fawn Brodie are spoken of positively as those who laid the groundwork for our more contemporary religious thinkers (Bushman, Jensen, Maxwell-correct me if I’m wrong :), Givens, Prince, etc).
    I strongly disagree with the notion that we use platitudes to convert. The de-emphasis of the memorized discussions is evidence that the church recognizes that everyone is introduced to Mormonism at a different level. I see our emphasis on the Savior, His church, and His gospel as a acknowledgment that no matter how much we try to think ourselves back to him, we will always fall short.

  3. Tyler,

    One of the obvious and reoccurring risks to conversations like this — is that we often tend to deal in anecdotes.

    My Sunday church experience very strongly resonates with what Ashley has written here….though your experience may be quite different. Who is right?

    In my Sunday church experience — names like Bennion and Roberts and Brodie are virtually unknown — and names like Bushman are often looked upon with grave caution or even disdain (“Isn’t he the guy who wrote that anti-Joseph Smith book that I didn’t read?”.

    I imagine that either of us could find GA quotes to bolster our respective positions regarding a “new openness”…which again, probably leads us nowhere.

    So all I can say is….whatever “intellectual awakening” that has descended upon Mormonism since 1993 (as you describe it) — has yet to manifest itself substantively in the LDS world in which I live — to me at least….

    …though I take you at your word….and remain hopeful that the trends you are seeing eventually make their way to my tiny corner of Cache Valley.

  4. Jonathan Green says:

    1517, not 1546.

    Now I’ll go back and read past the second word of your post.

  5. I hear this all the time, even here on the Bloggernacle. Whenever someone mentions that Sunday School could move to a higher level for instance, they are shouted down by the champions of the “milk-drinker.” I’ve lived in 11 wards all over the US, Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, and I find very few members who are new to the gospel and need babied. The vast majority have a clear understanding of basic gospel principles and could easily tolerate a bit more. Meanwhile, a few are hungering and thirsting for meat and are sadly forsaken.

    Tyler, we give lip service to eternal learning, but where do we actually see it in action?

  6. There’s already a theoretical milk/meat split in Sunday School: what else is the Gospel Essentials (investigators’) class?

    Of course, how this plays out in reality is another thing.

  7. Ugly Mahana says:

    What is milk and what is meat? (Not enough time now to share my thoughts, but I think it’s an important question.)

  8. This is such a great post! One of the main reasons I was dissatisfied with other churches is they want to make ignorance a virtue. After a sermon on St. Paul in Athens with the lesson “It’s better not to know too much”, I left one church never to return.

    One of the main things I liked about Mormonism when I was investigating is that we’re urged to learn as much as possible about everything there is. The quote “everything true is part of our religion” summed it up for me. I think that’s absolutely one of the very best things about Mormonism, and how I knew it was the religion for me. People and institutions who love you want you to learn more, to be more. Those who want to keep you ignorant are not on your side.

    You’re so right that the mind is crucial to the process of expanding the heart. And all mothers know that a diet of only milk after six months makes for a thin and sickly child.

    I can’t wait to read the rest of your posts in this series.

  9. Peter LLC says:


    Given some of the milky discussions I’ve witnessed, Gospel Essentials can be pretty meaty.

    We have decided, arbitrarily, to trade mainly in platitudes and behavior change.

    I was recently invited to participate with the missionaries in adiscussion on faith. The investigator had suffered from smoke inhalation and the missionaries were preparing him to accept an invitation to receive a blessing, which requires faith, right? In the section on faith, PMG has this to say:

    We believe in Christ, and we believe that He wants us to keep all His commandments. We want to show our faith by obeying Him. We pray in faith for strength to conquer temptation. We can also develop faith in a particular principle, such as the Word of Wisdom or tithing, by first believing in Jesus Christ strongly enough to obey His commandments.

    The elders didn’t quote this, but they did emphasize that faith should result in some observable behavior like, say, obedience to the WoW. After more discussion, they popped the question and the investigator said sure, a blessing would be great, but he did enjoy an occasional glass of wine–would God really bless, rather than condemn, him in light of his sin? Oops.

    I’m not ready to call the four paragraph treatment faith receives in Lesson 3 mere platitudes, but I do sense a certain emphasis on outward behavior among the missionary corps. For example, the missionaries were invited to ward council once and spent 30 minutes outlining why white was the only appropriate color for shirts, and why black was clearly not appropriate for ties. I believe the ward council’s response suggests that such views are not representative of the church as a whole, but where is this coming from? Mission rules being mistaken for eternal principles?

  10. Researcher says:

    I echo Mahana’s comment. What is “milk” and what is “meat”?

    And who are all of these people telling you about some nameless widow in Manila?

    From my experience anti-intellectualism is every bit as rare as true intellectualism. Neither one happens very often.

    If you are part of this tiny group, sure, you’re going to feel isolated.

    And if you happen to run into someone in the tiny group of anti-intellectuals, sure, you’ll feel persecuted.

    And then when you meet the other 98 percent of the population, you’re going to feel ignored and marginalized. They simply aren’t going to care much. Their lives revolve around relationships and systems and service rather than the agonized life of the mind. Their questions are going to be answered in ways other than your kind of quest for truth. It’s not that they are not asking questions, it’s simply that they are asking different questions and other things are more important in their life experience.

    To some people, accumulating large amounts of information and making sure that every system seems cohesive and complete and self-explanatory and that every person associated with the system has always acted in the “correct” way, simply is not their way of seeing and understanding the mysteries of godliness.

    Of course if they neglect the scriptures and the words of truth and light, they are also going to be less open to the influence of the Holy Ghost and the beautiful influence that the spirit can have in teaching them the mysteries of heaven.

    Everyone needs to be involved in the search for light and truth, but it’s important to realize that people are going to approach the search differently from you and this does not invalidate the whole system.

  11. What do you want, then? (If I recall correctly, Luther’s Theses were not general in character but had clear remedies).

    The most obvious remedy here is that we try to turn gospel doctrine into a graduate seminar. I think that’s a bad idea. Very few people have the cast of mind to make the most of that kind of environment–indeed, in my experience in graduate seminars, many of those who portray themselves as intellectuals and disapprove of others’ ignorance are among those whose mindset leads them to get less out of the experience and be more unpleasant during it.

    Also, conducting a graduate seminar–or even an undergraduate seminar–is remarkable hard. Very few people have the capacity to do it. (Frankly, not all that many people in most wards I’ve been in have the capacity to do the more high-schoolish format we have today.) There are many many things that go into being prepared, and then able, to do this kind of session in a way that is meaningful and positive (then to also have to do it in a way that invites the spirit–something missing from most all graduate seminars adds several further problems; remember, conflict and a good fight is generally the basis of most of the best seminars).

    Also, it seems to me that what you’re disccussing isn’t a matter of whether people are encouraged to think deeply or not–but rather if a particular approach to that is officially encouraged or not.

  12. Sorry, I meant socially encouraged or not.

    And really, so long as this approach is leading to the kinds of comments that people find meaningful or insightful to their spiritual lives, I’ve never had a problem expressing them. But then, my involvement in theological issues is less ‘the church as an institution’ than in understanding doctrines of salvation and faith–so they may be less problematic for a larger stream of people.

  13. Name (required) says:

    The missionaries have very little but milk (fat free at that) to offer people. Our missionaries generally go out with only the most basic knowledge of the gospel. A lot missionaries have probably read the Book of Mormon by the time they get to the field, but I’d bet that only a small minority have read the entire Bible and D+C even by the end of their missions. We don’t necessarily need scholars out there, but maybe these missionaries would be more effective if they had actually read the scriptures through at least one time. The emphasis in the church is clearly an emotional/spiritual conversion. This is useful and good for many, but we should be able to deliver when someone needs a little intellectual nourishment as well.

  14. Kristine says:

    Ashley, I think you’re right about a certain strain of anti-intellectualism that creeps into the culture of the church; I think I disagree with your suggestion (you don’t quite specify the oppressing “they”) that this anti-intellectualism is officially or doctrinally sanctioned. After all, Joseph F. Smith (that famous liberal) condemned both willful ignorance and intellectual pride:

    Among the Latter-day Saints, the preaching of false doctrines disguised as truths of the gospel, may be expected from people of two classes, and practically from these only; they are:
    “First, the hopelessly ignorant, whose lack of intelligence is due to their indolence and sloth, who make but feeble effort, if indeed any at all, to better themselves by reading and study; those who are afflicted with a dread disease that may develop into an incurable malady: laziness.
    Second, the proud and self-vaunting ones, who read by the lamp of their own conceit, who interpret by rules of their own contriving; who have become a law unto themselves, and so, pose as the sole judges of their own doings. More dangerously ignorant than the first.
    Beware of the lazy and of the proud; their infection in each case is contagious; better for them and for all when they are compelled to display the yellow flag of warning, that the clean and uninfected may be protected.

    A diffuse, cultural sort of anti-intellectualism is both harder and easier to confront than an official policy of enforcing such notions would be–harder, because there’s no mechanism for appeal, and the argument has to be made over and over again, each time charitably considering one’s audience, but also easier, because you don’t have to try to believe it or act as though you are ignorant. You are free to develop and follow the passions of your mind, and even to share them with other members of the church who are ready and curious; one of the benefits of being clever is that you can learn to read and play the culture so as to share in a way that is not perceived as arrogant or threatening.

    Also, it’s good to remember that all religious cultures have their downsides–thinky Episcopal congregations, though their scripture study is often more fun, have their own set of problems that practical, lowest-common-denominator Mormonism manages extremely well.

    (And, btw, that post is a nice bit of work–Luther would approve of your conviction and your rhetorical skill)

  15. Ashley,

    How, then, do we account for all the people who are both smarter (in terms of brainpower) and better (in terms of charity) than I, and who are quite happy with the gospel in all its simplicity?

    I agree with you to the extent that I wish there were more room for robust discussion. And I agree with you that we often sacralize and privilege a dumbed-down gospel. But does not the approach that you put forward privilege your own concerns? We eggheads (if I may temporarily put myself into the category) need to admit: there aren’t many of us, probably less than 2 or 3% of the church membership.

    Your point about the tiresome nature of milk vs. meat arguments is a good one, but you seem to have adopted it. It isn’t clear to me that the questions which engage us are the real meat. I think we need to be wide open to the suggestion that our intellectual hangups are child’s play, and that the widow in Manila really does have it all figured out.

    Finally, even though my comment takes issue with a few of your points, I just wanted to thank you for such thought-provoking posts! They really are a pleasure.

  16. I would like to know what the scriptures say about how to teach? Not one scripture or prophet or priesthood authority was mentioned. The only one that was mentioned was briefly Paul, only in a negative light about a preacher. My belief is that the Scriptures are closer to teach to the level of that poor widow in Manila than the Greek intellectual.

  17. Kristine says:

    Ashley, that last parenthetical bit of praise sounded condescending–none intended, sorry! I wish I’d said it the way Mark did!

  18. Ok, someone did quote Joseph F. Smith after I posted. Maybe we need to find some kind of middle ground, or at least find out how to negotiate the many ways people learn in a better way.

  19. We don’t need a graduate seminar format to deal successfully with intellectual challenges to faith, which are disturbing a good number of active Latter-day Saints, based on my entirely anecdotal evidence based on my knowledge of my stake, mission service, and extended family. Many who are not intellectuals are smart enough to have watched 10,000 BC or Jurassic Park, and to go, wait, how do I reconcile this with the story of the earth I have learned in Church? I have heard many members of the Church who do not ride the “intellectual hobby horse” express these concerns, so I agree with Ashley that the Manila widow is a silly counter-argument to use against those who desire more meat.

  20. We don’t need a graduate seminar format to deal successfully with intellectual challenges to faith, which are disturbing a good number of active Latter-day Saints, based on my entirely anecdotal evidence based on my knowledge of my stake, mission service, and extended family. Many who are not intellectuals are smart enough to have watched 10,000 BC or Jurassic Park, and to go, wait, how do I reconcile this with the story of the earth I have learned in Church? I have heard many members of the Church who do not ride the “intellectual hobby horse” express these concerns, so I agree with Ashley that the Manila widow is a silly counter-argument to use against those who desire more meat

  21. MrFroggie says:

    Yes, let’s discuss remedies. I teach GD in my ward and I had originally thought that GD class would be a great place for these more meaty discussions. But I have since learned that the spread of people in the class range from the “I want my milk” tantrums to the “that’s just another Sunday school question/answer” rant. It is rare for the teacher’s manual to suggest questions that elicit more than just milky responses. Correlation provides a distribution method to promote and even direct more meaty discussions. But the writers of correlated materials are reticent to put thought provoking questions in published materials.

    I agree that Gospel Essentials on the other hand does tend to be more lively. Class members have not been socialized to give the predetermined answers. And attendees are frequently asked to make major changes in their life. GD lessons are not written to ask us to make major changes in our lives. They should be. We all have aspects of our life that need to be challenged. Then we can be shaken out of our routine and so we can continue to grow.

  22. John Dehlin,BiV,
    My reference to an “intellectual awakening” (as you put it) points more to person pursuits of meat rather than meaty, church-sponsored discussions in sunday school. While I have know and have heard many people laud RSR, I have only met two or three who are suspicious of it. Many members continually seek a deeper understanding (many of them are BCC frequenters), my point is that while the church hasn’t written a manual for intellectual thought, a larger portion of its membership has begun to seek knowledge outside of packaged correlation.

  23. oops #20, personal persuits

  24. Wow, sorry about #20- second sentence should read “while i know…”

  25. There’s a deeper issue at play here, I think:

    Meaty, academic discussions thrive on doubt and dissonance and Socratic questions: you take a proposition and place it under a withering glare.

    This does not work in a Sunday Mormon environment because there is no debate to be had: each question only has one answer, and it is the right one.

  26. Thomas Parkin says:

    I’ve got a lot I’d like to say – and maybe I will later on when I have a little time – but, for now, just a comment or two.

    I think some difficulty lies in the fact that we talk about things that contain subtle differences but which have the same names.

    In one sense, intelligence, we read, is light and truth, the glory of God, something which we should be working towards and which we can all achieve, through grace. It means, roughly, the ability to look at any scenario and penetrate it fully, understand it fully. In this sense, I think intelligence can be seen not only as a trait, but as a constellation of attributes obtained through the active application of virtues.

    On the other hand, intelligence is simply a trait: a very intelligent person has the ability to synthesize and assimilate and work with divergent, subtle information. It is a trait only, and and not neccesarily a virtue. While it can be developed, it is also part of what we bring to the table with us. It is better to be intelligent, in this sense, than not – in much the same way that it is better to be healthy than sick, or even rich than poor – but intelligence in this sense does not make a person ‘better.’

    It is a tool rather than a virtue, and it matters how one uses it. A hammer can be used to help build a house, or it can be used to smash a piggy bank, or it can be used for for waving about, standing on a corner shouting “look at me, I’ve got a hammer!” Similarly, intelligence can be used to unwind falsehoods, or it can be used to complicate the web of deception and self-deception that we all engage in. How we use it depends on our character, and our character is fundamentally impacted when we put the milk to good use: that is, we exercise faith, repent, receive the Holy Ghost, etc.

    Thanks, Ashley, for your continued intelligent posts. I do sympathize with what you’re talking about in this post. Very much.


  27. Steve Evans says:

    Bravissima, Ashley.

    Is it possible that people sometimes eschew as milk those messages which are most important to them? I know that I tend to favor “meat” which doesn’t provide any real spiritual nutrition.

  28. Ashley,

    Great post. I am interested in Part II. Just thought I would add a small list of “meat” that remains at the “milk” level. I would love to hear what your list is, and your thoughts on them. If my list assists you in any way, it is my pleasure.

    1) How to rectify the “Heaven or Hell” rhetoric
    of 2 Nephi with the more hopeful words in the
    D & C on the subject (particularly in terms of the fact that we ask new members to read the Book of Mormon, and hide the deeper doctrine of three heavenly kingdoms, and that most people will be in one of those kingdoms.)
    2) The “Singles over age 30” issue. When is it ok to marry a non-member? Why are singles treated so differently than married people in the Church (even though one-third of the Church is single? And why is the Middle Singles Program run and managed by married people?
    3)Is it the eleventh commandment to be Republican?
    4)Just what is the level of spiritual guidance that a Bishop should have in the face of personal revelation? Is it sinful to go agaist his word…even if you, yourself, are confused about your own answers?
    5)Are there other ways to fix abortion, particularly in teens, than making it illegal? Is it ok to believe that other solutions (albeit more leftist in ideology) could fix the problem better, such as: education, accountability of the whereabouts of students in public schools, and a “living wage” for single parents (all of these requiring higher taxes)?

  29. Researcher says:

    According to Justin, the meat of the gospel consists of your own personal beefs with the culture, nicht wahr?

  30. Ronan,

    I largely think that your #23 depends on the teacher. I have seen lots of throwdowns over…. the wow, BOM origins, Inter kingdom progression, veracity of OT stories, polygamy etc. What you will not see is serious questions/debate about the “big 4-5” God, JC, JSJR, true church, modern prophets. As a church community we are in the community because most of us accept the “big 4-5” similar to other religious or political communities.

    I also think that Ashley’s larger point does not apply to the average church member. These types of intellectual questions based on my experience only interest a small minority in the pews. Intellectualism in my view does not get one into the CK. Keeping covenants, serving, practicing Christlike attributes will.

    Now they do in fact interest me but I recognize that I am in a small minority.

  31. Kristine said what I was thinking, only more cogently. Except that I wasn’t sure whether Ashley was saying that anti-intellectualism is officially, as opposed to culturally, sanctioned.

    I agree that, depending on your ward, you might see a lot of it in practice. My own ward is a case in point. The other day, the Relief Society had a nice meaty lesson on John the Baptist. In High Priests Group, the same lesson from the Joseph Smith manual somehow became the occasion for a debate on whether Barack Obama is a Muslim.

    I also agree that the question of what is milk and what is meat merits further discussion.

  32. IMO any discussion of milk vs. meat to advocate more ‘meat’ is a lost cause from the get-go. It automatically sets up a hierarchy which the church as a body won’t accept. I posted some thoughts on this about a week ago, but it didn’t generate much response:

  33. Great post. I am interested in Part II….single parents (all of these requiring higher taxes)?

    For the record:

    1) This “Justin” is not me
    2) This “Justin” needs to adopt a new handle (I’ve been commenting on BCC as Justin for years).
    3) I do not endorse comment #27

  34. We have 36 hours a year to participate in GD class. Class isn’t long enough and there aren’t enough of them to make a real change in thinking. Church is a lousy format for an intelectual awakening, and most members aren’t going to do it on their own. Most members don’t do anything outside the block beyond prayer and maybe scripture study reading.

    The best thing a teacher can do in church is to get the class to feel the spirit and end the class before the spirit leaves. You can sprinkle in meat, which I hope I do when I teach, but it’s not the focus. If you want more than this, you’ll have to change the format of church.

  35. Researcher says:

    Hooray…I’m all for it! Let’s have longer meetings! (Just kidding.)

  36. I couldn’t imagine what activity rates would look like with longer meetings.

  37. Kyle M,

    I agree. Everytime I try and do to much meat in class the spirit leaves and the eyes glaze over. Once the milk starts flowing again they wake up and lesson is good.

  38. And thus, bad reading becomes faith, convention becomes obedience, and preemptive certitude is humility.

    I’m going to cross-stitch this and hang it in my entry.

    Beautifully written.

  39. Note to Dixie: please understand that BCC is not a site that welcomes anti-mormon sentiment.

  40. Dixie,
    You’ll have to ditch words like “emancipated,” “deceivers,” and the “Morg,” if you want a sensible reply. Otherwise, it’s adios.

  41. A lot of the discussion above focuses on Sunday School as (non)exemplary of the intellectual trends and traits of the Church. But I’d say that Ashley’s point goes much deeper than Sunday School, Gospel Essentials, or the Missionary Discussions.

    The ecclesiastical and cultural emphasis on how you study and think spiritually when you’re not in church tends much more toward facile reading and application than toward a grappling with some of the meatier issues involved in following God and engaging the world. This mode then feeds back into what gets discussed within church settings.

    And I’ll second smallaxe’s post in this regard.

  42. Jupiterschild #40:
    “The ecclesiastical and cultural emphasis on how you study and think spiritually when you’re not in church tends much more toward facile reading and application than toward a grappling with some of the meatier issues involved in following God and engaging the world.”
    Can you specify what you mean? Who is promulgating the emphasis?

  43. Note to Dixie: please understand that BCC is not a site that welcomes anti-mormon sentiment.

    But take heart, Dixie: Perhaps you’ll be comfortable in the church that Ashley apparently intends to start up.

  44. Tyler, ecclesiasts and culturals.

    Really, though, I think it’s more complicated than simply what comes down from the pulpit or Pulpit. I think it involves a feedback mechanism where what people want (to be comforted emotionally) and what the leaders say come into harmony, and it happens to be far away from what I think (I’m admitting my subjectivity here) our religion/gospel is all about, and what I perceive Ashley to be saying our religion is designed to do.

    There are many other factors that play a strong role: changing sociopolitcal and economic backdrops, globalization, rise of the middle class (redundant?), etc.

  45. Dixie: honestly, this site may just not be for you.

  46. I have a big church that I belong to. In fact, it’s bigger and older than any in the history of humankind. It’s the church of the Grand Canyon. When I stand on the rim (North rim of course) I can’t help but feel a great awe and reverence for the earth and all it offers us lowly human beings. Sure as heck beats sitting for three hrs. in a brown brick building and arguing the points of Latter Day Saint minutia while I could be sorting socks or making love or going for a hike.

    What are the rewards of staying in THE Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints? What makes you all go every Sunday?

    You’re welcome to come to my church anytime and the Park Service doesn’t care if you wear a white shirt or frumpy dress or not. And you can drink colas without the brown paper bag to hide your sins. Cool eh? Bring your own water though and pack out what you pack in, including any human waste. The lodge has bathrooms but watch out for black widows.

  47. What are the rewards of staying in THE Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints? What makes you all go every Sunday?

    Because the church is true, and it was established by the same God that carved your canyon about 6,000 years ago.

  48. Give or take a billion years.

  49. Dixie, you may be suprised to find out that some of us have been in your shoes. If you’re not disparaging, you might get some of your questions answered.

    BTW, last Sunday I wore a blue shirt to church and drank Coke.

  50. The Gospel, at its most fundamental level, is one of action; I’m not sure that Christ cares much as to what we think of the Gospel, so long as it propels us to serve our fellow man. We’re all down here in the muck, trying to find a way out (or, closer to the truth, trying to help our neighbor find a way out), and if “intellectualizing” the Gospel makes of us better doers than hearers of the word, then that’s a good thing.

    There are some who need to “figure out how it will all come together in the end” in order to make it seem more real, and maybe more comforting to them now, I suppose, and there are those who are quite content to do what they can in the here and now, and wait for the detailed answers to come in the next life. I imagine you can find plenty of saints in both groups, and I guess the question we all need to answer for ourselves is “how intellectually stimulating does the Gospel really need to be?”

    And I agree: it’s possible that we need to nail down what is meant by “milk” and “meat”.

  51. Yet Another John says:


    I’ve attended the church of the Grand Canyon many times, in fact, I live not too far from it. Yes, it’s awe-inspiring and beautiful. But you’re wrong to say you are welcome there anytime. In the summer, you must get there early or you don’t get a campsite (even on the North Rim). If you plan to stay overnight anywhere below the rim you must get a permit. A permit may not be available for the time AND area you wish to visit.

    No, the Park Service doesn’t necessarily care if you wear a “white shirt or frumpy dress” but if you don’t wear something appropriate for the canyon you may freeze, get sunstroke, or be pulling cactus out of your behind.

    I could go on, but I won’t (The Park Service and the BLM are special pet peeves of mine). Suffice it to say I enjoy the Canyon and I enjoy church, I like gospel “esoterica” but nothing brings me more reward than doing the small things.

  52. I think we need to be wide open to the suggestion that our intellectual hangups are child’s play, and that the widow in Manila really does have it all figured out.


    I like the post and the idea for more choices for members accessing the gospel. I would say, though, that the ‘meat’ for me is about my heart more than my head

    And I wonder about your characterization of converts and on what they are based, for they do not match my own experience.

  53. gst, your # 47 made me spill my diet Pepsi all over my white shirt.

    Dixie, I think I missed your other posts that the admins found offensive, but I’ll just say that the reasons I spend hours in meetings on a Sunday are more complex than your reasons for staying out. I flirted with those concepts years back, but found that I could still go to church, and have all that you are talking about as well. And church is, in spite of occasional bumps in the road here and there, extremely fulfilling for me. Best of both worlds, at this point.

  54. Researcher, (#10):

    And who are all of these people telling you about some nameless widow in Manila?

    You don’t think that in Correlation Committee there’s not a “lowest common denominator” effect? That they don’t avoid significant issues because it might damage the faith of some milk-deficient Saint?

    And another post I forgot to link to, on Anti-Intellectualism in the Church.

  55. I believe any wide-spread increase in “meatier subjects” would have to be directed from correlation and the general authorities in order to gain any strong foothold in the Church culture at large.

    With that said I’m not sure we always take into account what a huge responsibility and weight it must be to prepare materials for general Church instruction. It’s all well and good on our blogs and comments, but if we were to sit and prepare a lesson that would be used in various countries and cultures, as well as the valleys of Utah, what would we do?

    Meanwhile, those who want heavier discussions or changes sooner than later probably need to be the changes they see in the Church for now.

    And you can always shoot a letter to a General Authority, as well.

  56. Dixie: Please feel free to read my recent post about community and the Church.

    A Visit to the Southern Settlements: The Miracle of Unity

  57. In addition the the good links jupiterschild has provided, there is also this voice from the dust:

    Who Are the Ignoranti?

  58. Instead of posting lengthy thoughts, I’ll throw in a third post about this topic at FPR, from the perspective of a CES teacher and OT grad student.

  59. Let me start by saying that I like Ashley’s thoughts in the original post. And I agree that anti-intellectualism is a hard thing to stomach when it shows up in church discourse.

    But I have to agree somewhat with Mark IV (#15) and Norbert (#51). My thoughts:

    –I like to believe that the greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. These certainly qualify as “milk.”

    –Some of the fabled “meat” in church discourse is merely cobbled together from “bad reading, convention, and preemtive certitude.” Too often members (and maybe even some leaders) take an uncritial literalistic view of scripture and past leaders’ statements, and string them together into pat answers where no answer has really been given. One benefit of correlation is that it has put a moratorium on officially sanctioned discussion of the curse of Cain, anti-communism, details of family planning, the exact method of Jesus’ conception, speculation on the Garden of Eden and the fall, etc. This is what many members consider “meat,” but to me it is merely warmed-over tripe, and I can do without it.

    –The “meat” that Ashley seems to be referring to is closer reading, critical thinking, and an appreciation for historical and cultural context. I am in favor of all of these things. But I think that many other members may not have the time or capacity to care. To some, life is easier when the iron rod is set out for you (and I don’t mean this in a condecending way at all). But at minimum, I think that leaders at all levels need to be aware of how “closer reading, critical thinking, and historical context” might affect some of our “bad reading, convention, and preemtive certitude.” Ironically, deeper thinking might help us focus better on the milk. If we cut out some of the heavy focus on somewhat arbitrary cultural standards of dress & grooming, for example, we might be able to spend more time figuring out the love and service part. And THAT just might remove barriers to entry and make the gospel more accessible to everyone, including the widow in Manila.

    I am deeply interested in intellectual issues regarding the church. But in the end, deep doctrines have a limited influence on my day-to-day behavior. Jesus may or may not be Jehovah in the OT, or the Garden of Eden might be literal or allegorical, but I will try to serve my neighbor the same either way.

  60. Aaron Brown says:

    “This is what many members consider “meat,” but to me it is merely warmed-over tripe, and I can do without it.”

    Yeah, it’s fun to talk about “milk” and “meat,” but without getting specific, it’s not really always clear what these terms are shorthand for. A fun exercise would be to ask people in our respective wards, or amongst our non-Bloggernacle LDS acquaintances, to give examples of gospel “meat” that come to mind. I think we might be in for a real shock.

    “Meat” for many may be much like my other favorite phrase: “deep doctrine.” Other than the fact that what many regard as “deep doctrines” are neither doctrinal nor deep, the term really is perfectly apt. :)

    Aaron B

  61. This discussion reminds me of my favorite (okay, only) Joseph Fielding Smith story. He was visiting a stake in southern Utah, probably one of the firesides he used to give where his wife would join him. In his preparation for the meeting, he asked them what topic they would like him to address. The answer was “the mysteries of the kingdom.” He entitled his talk, “Faith, Repentance, Baptism.”

  62. AB, right on.

  63. David Knowlton says:

    Hi all. In my personal experience, when I was a young adult in Austin, before I learned to keep my mouth shut in Church or in Institute, the meat milk duo was invoked when people would ask uncomfortable questions or make uncomfortable analogies or comparisons. yes part of the issue was intellectual, not in content, per se, but in the asking of questions.

    There may be some language things here in the form and place of questions that separate intellectuals from many others. I am thinking of Julie Lindquist’s work on language where she argues that it is the work that questions do in defining intellectuals as opposed to the working class worlds she grew up in and later studied.

    As a result “deep” may not be the right metaphor. I think we need to look more closely at ordinary LDS language practices; they are probably not the same as those of more intellectually inclined Latter-day Saints, such that they nature of “questions” themselves may be the problem. The common response of “meat/milk” would suggest ways that questioning is received and understood. Nevertheless that image might lead us away from understanding what is really at stake.

  64. David Knowlton says:

    Oops. The work that questions do in defining intellectuals as opposed to the working class worlds she grew up in and later studied that separates the two communities into different language domains which are somewhat unintelligible to each other. That is how that sentence should read

  65. Aaron,

    I agree with you. I recently tried to pull out the Methodist Apostles creed and compare it to a famous JSJR atonement statement in EQ. After about 5 minutes of silence and glazed eyes I started talking about how I felt the Res was the greatest miracle that ever occurred. A brother whose child had died a few years ago rose to his feet and bore witness that his child would live again. I bore witness that my grandmother who had died of Alzhiemers would regain her faculties in the Res. The spirit filled the room. The men sat up straight and leaned forward. Many started tearing up at the fathers words.

    The Gospel basics “milk” and how they apply in our lives is important not “meat”.

    AB, CE, and CS Eric are exactly right.

  66. Very long and confusing post. Is there a version for the simple minded?

  67. I really like CE’s comment (#58).

  68. It’s the Church’s responsibility to give me my milky foundation – and provide it for all the others sitting next to and around me – and give me a social structure that can provide a motivation for real Christian love / service – and encourage personal growth by letting me and other average schmucks run the Church while tripping all over ourselves and begging forgiveness for the harm we do in the process – in the less than 200 hours per year I am attending the 3-hour block. It’s MY responsibility to learn to digest and then find the meat during the other thousands of hours that are mine.

    Sometimes we demand too much of the Church and too little of ourselves – or project our own hang-ups on others who neither want nor need them.

  69. Eric Russell says:

    I was once in a BYU singles ward where there were four Sunday School classes and, thanks to a motivated Sunday School Presidency, each class had a different flavor. One was called “traditional,” another was called “discussion” and class members sat in a circle and were eager to participate, the third was called “tag-team” in which two people taught together, (in its early stages anyone in the audience could yell out “switch!” and the other teacher had to pick up right where the first left off, but that eventually became onerous) and the fourth Sunday School class was called “survivor” and was based off of the reality TV show (don’t ask). Everyone could choose whichever class they wanted. It was lots of fun and worked out great.

    I think wards have more flexibility in how they teach the gospel than they may think they have. There’s no reason a ward couldn’t have two Sunday School classes and somehow subtly identify one as a class that engages the scriptures in a closer reading than usual. The standard model of everyone going around the room reading a verse while the teacher follows up with a question read word for word from the manual isn’t prescribed anywhere.

  70. Thanks Trevor.

  71. “They have changed Christianity into too much of a consolation, and forgotten that it is a demand upon men..”

    I appreciate Ashley’s post and she has some good points. However, I would take exception with the milk/meat dichotomy. I agree that there is certainly a fair amount of milk being passed about on Sunday but I wonder as to the responsibility. I have lately taken it upon myself, perhaps incorrectly time will tell, to ask questions and make comments that challenge, offend, and I hope at times enlighten. If we want deeper conversations, then start them. Maybe they will fall on deaf ears, maybe they won’t. I respect the choice of my fellow members to engage or not. They have every right to pursue the “milk” as I do my own intellectual inquiries. My only problem is when those who engage in intellectual inquiry are trivialized or criticized for taking their religion to serious.

  72. This has been a super discussion thus far, by the way.

  73. Don’t jinx it, Hodges!!

  74. Yet Another John says:

    Re: #68

    Having multiple classes is fine, but the reality is that most buildings have multiple wards overlapping and finding the space is impossible.

    Anyway, as has been mentioned before, Sunday School is not the School of the Prophets and there just isn’t time to delve “deep”. I think a good gospel doctrine teacher can provide the germs of thought and perhaps provoke more study and reflection on one’s own. I know the internet and the bloggernacle in particular have done that for me.

    The truth of the matter (as I see it anyway) is that for most of us the “milk” is just what we need and want. We get up in the morning, try to get our family thru prayer and scriptures, eat, and go our separate ways. We work, go to school, etc. and, if we’re lucky, rejoin for supper. More often than not, one kid is here, another there, a meeting, a school activity, etc., all conspiring to keep us apart til bedtime when we flop down in utter exhaustion.

    So maybe if I get thru this life, or at least this stage in my life, sustained by “milk”, later on I can chew some steak.

  75. Thomas Parkin says:

    I would tentatively define milk as the universal savings principles of the gospel, and meat what we can only learn after milk has largely done its work. I don’t think meat is something that intelligunt people discuss, or things that even take intelligunce to discuss. I suggest that we don’t even know what the meat might be. I think, tentatvely, that meat consists of ‘mysteries.’ Once penetrated, the mystery dissipated, meat may consist of conepts jsut as simple as the milk that we also don’t understand.

    I don’t think we ever speak about meat in the church. What’s more discouragin – if you’re in the mood to be discouraged – I don’t know that we talk about milk all that much, either. Let alone, you know, drink it.

    Under these definitions, any discussion should be possible; not on grounds that it is either milk or meat, but simply because someone wants to hear it addressed.


  76. Also, FWIW the milk/meat dichotomy comes from the KJV in Hebrews 5:8ff . The context is describing some Christians as newborns who are yet unable to handle solid food, in terms of Christian teaching. What it actually means is milk/solid food, not milk/meat.

    /prescriptivist mini-rant

  77. Thomas Parkin says:

    Some more thoughts on meat:

    Meat may be difficult for the unprepared, or controversial for some. But difficulty and controversy are not the essential characteristics of meat. The metaphor seems to indicate that meat is, essentially, centrally, spirtual nourishmnet for the spiritually mature. Because we are discussing a subject that we know will be controversial doesn’t mean that we are neccesarily in a ‘meaty’ discussion. It might be that the subject matter is totally peripheral to the gospel, not meat, or milk, maybe barely edible, even though carries a charge. Similarly, meaty topics may be obscure, in that they aren’t touched on in the common going about of things. But obscurity isn’t the essential trait of meat. Meat will still be meat when it is as common as water.

    I thought adding a bit of Hebrews 5 might be interesting or helpful:

    … Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.
    11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.
    12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
    13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
    14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

    And then 6

    1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of crepentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,
    2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of claying on of dhands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
    3 And this will we do, if God permit.

    Importantly, JS translates verse 1 as “not leaving,” and then say something this effect: ‘how if we leave the first principles of the gospel are we to be saved in them.’ The idea being that yes, we hope to and should move from milk to meat, but even at that we are saved by milk.


  78. Aaron Brown says:

    Oh, we do drink milk at Church, Thomas. It’s just non-fat. And sometimes spoiled. :)


  79. Just for fun, here is another Joseph F. Smith quote:

    God has revealed to us a simple and effectual way of serving Him, and we should regret very much to see the simplicity of those revelations involved in all sorts of philosophical speculations. If we encouraged them it would not be long before we should have a theological scholastic aristocracy in the Church, and we should therefore not enjoy the brotherhood that now is, or should be common to rich and poor, learned and unlearned among the Saints.

  80. Thomas Parkin says:


    From a conversation in the restaurant:

    Coming over the Muzak: Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks”
    my employee Tally: I kind of like this song
    me: me, too.
    my employee Tally: even though it is Rod Stewart
    me: nothing wrong with Rod Stewart that a good beating wouldn’t solve
    my employee Tally: I suppose so
    me: I wonder what Rod Stewart is doing now
    customer: he’s probably touring somehwere
    me: no, I mean I wonder what is doing _right now_
    my employee Tally: he could be drinking chocolate milk


  81. Ardis Parshall says:

    Our ward has two Gospel Doctrine classes, each one taught by two excellent teachers who alternate each week. The classes tend to divide along age lines, but that’s entirely self-selecting. I’ve attended both. Because the teachers are so good in both, the difference in the two classes seems to be the discussion offered by class members. The 20somethings tend to offer examples from personal life experience, which by definition is fairly limited, usually simple and milk-like. The older class (and I mean *older,* most being in their 70s or older — we have almost no one in our ward between 30 and 70) tends to throw in many more references to books, other cultures, and personal experiences in church leadership or life experiences that are far, far broader than the other class. Discussion there can often be called meat (but occasionally fried froth, and once in a great while even spoiled mayonnaise).

    The content offered and teaching methods of the teachers is virtually the same. The difference between milk and meat is controlled by the offerings of the class members.

  82. Sanford Barrett says:

    I might be projecting here but I think Ashley’s critique goes beyond dissing correlated Sunday School lessons. I think she is dismayed (saddened, hurt, devastated, disappointed, disillusioned, angry – you choose) that in the Church intellectualism is tolerated rather than encouraged. Worse, intellectualism can result in your being shown the door (i.e. the September six). It’s a challenge to reconcile belief in a Church that makes intellectual pursuit a thing to be wary of rather than encouraged and nurtured. It’s also disconcerting be part of a church/culture which tells you that intellectualism is appropriately pursued only when you are away from official Church forums. For those who equate intellectual inquiry with a search for truth, the message is that you will have to do most of your searching on your own, rather than in Church.

  83. Sanford, I don’t mean to say you’re wrong, necessarily, but your complaint is simply outdated. I have heard those complaints hundreds of times now (albeit most of them fifteen years ago). It’s simply not reflective of the current Church.

  84. Ardis, your comment really “ticks me off!” :)

  85. Ardis Parshall says:

    How could it “tick” you when it was just “tock,” adcama?

  86. You know me and this type of “tock”….

  87. Ardis Parshall says:

    We need an emoticon that includes an olive branch.

  88. Our missionary program tells us more about what kind of religion we value than almost any of our other institutions.

    I can’t agree with this at all. I would say it’s the temple.

    And Ardis gets to the heart of the matter in #80.

  89. Yeah. But at least we’re “tocking” again…..and about the same issue none the less. I suppose it was only a “matter of time.”

  90. Ardis Parshall says:

    And neither of us seems to want to clean the other’s clock.

    Do you suppose anybody else realizes they’ve just seen us kiss and make up? I won’t tell if you won’t.

  91. kissing emoticon:


  92. Steve Evans says:

    What are you two nuts talking about??

  93. I blame myself for this recent rash of poor humor, etc.

    Sorry, guys.

  94. I’d never kiss and tell…especially with this group!

  95. Ardis Parshall says:

    Sorry, Steve. I think we have it out of our systems now, and can get back to discussing Ashley’s fine post and the points it raises.

  96. Skipping all the comments, still flushed from the rush and thrill of reading this sublime thesis…

    Ashley, I want to stand on my chair and cry “Brava!”, clapping and waving both my hanky and my copy of RSR to cheer you on!

    My convert-self relishes the day I overcome my adjectives and splash through that milk ceiling…

  97. StillConfused says:

    I respect the folks who like to intellectualize religion. Personally, I like to keep it simple… basic commandments and do-good-to-all mentality. That is just what works best for me.

  98. I echo the sentiment that it would be well to accurately define what we mean by milk and meat, not that Ashley didn’t take a good shot, but perhaps we have strayed after 90-some comments.

    At times, I might be tempted to take specific issues and classify them as either milk or meat, depending on the relative depth that I might perceive. For example, “love your neighbor” might be considered milk, and a scholarly look at the history of changes in the BoM might be considered to be meat.

    But in such an example, I fear I would have missed much of the “meaty” opportunity in an otherwise apparent “milky’ topic. In the previous example, I could add meat to the subject by trying to delve into the nature of love (bringing my sense of life-style to someone who might not want it?), or into who is a neighbor (what is my personal relationship with a gay friend, and how do I best “love” her, when she would have nothing to do with religion?). Obviously the examples are boundless, and the applications are equally without end.

    So I now suspect that rather than being topic-specific, the idea of milk/meat is more about one’s personal approach – which is what I sense Ashley was trying to get across.

    I haven’t been to more than a handful of Sunday School classes in years; I simply can’t tolerate the “milk” approach. Simplistic questions, looking for one simplistic answer – the one that propels the next question, or next scripture reading. Rather, I sit in the chapel, pull out a hymnal and try to get through one song and what it means for me that day. Now that might seem to be milky, but I can tell you, I’ve had many meaty discussions with myself. I simple topic like “obey” leads my thoughts into the temple, disagreements I’ve had with leaders, the nature of the atonement, etc. And now with internet access on phones, you can really get lost, just trying to chew, let alone trying to digest.

    I suspect we have all heard from the pulpit, listened in a class or been told in a private interview the old platitude “when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done”. Nothing disgusts me more. I’ve heard it all – even changed to fit a Bishop’s personal style, when he replaced “prophet”, with his own name. Now that is drowning in the milk.

    Yesterday, one of the threads here led me to quote from Hugh B. Brown in his Final Testimony. He said, “we must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it. The church is not so much concerned with whether the thoughts of its members are orthodox or heterodox as it is that they shall have thoughts.”

    Now that’s a real mouthful!

  99. Thomas Parkin says:

    ““when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done””

    I’m not sure if I’ve heard that, although I can imagine some who might say it. Kind of a variation of “God said it, I beleive it, that settles it.”

    They might as well have a bumper sticker that says, “I’m the man with one talent.”


  100. Perhaps my own experience has been completely different than Ashley’s or some of the other commenters’, but I’ve found Sunday School, and even Elders’ Quorum, to be occasions for “intellectual” or “meaty” discussions.

    Sure, I still hear comments in classes about how a certain topic isn’t “necessary for our salvation” or other dismissals of inquiry, but by and large, teachers and class members have been open to questions, ideas, comments.
    Now maybe I just live in an extremely liberal pocket of Salt Lake City. Or maybe it’s partly a function of the mindset with which one approaches Church and lessons. If one goes expecting to discuss Zelph, second anointings, etc., one is going to be sorely disappointed. However, if one approaches the meetings hoping to learn from the experiences of others, to see depth in oft-read scriptures that one didn’t see before, or to gain an appreciation for the spiritual journey of their brothers and sisters, one will often (not always, of course) find enlightenment.

    This, I’d argue, are the weightier, meatier matters of our Gospel experience.

    Condescending, faux-intellectual posts like the one above most definitely are not.

  101. One other point – your penultimate (how’s that for a big word?) graf suggested the oft-repeated suggestion that mission culture does little to stem the anti-intellectual tide that you fear has swept the Church. I don’t think this is entirely fair.

    Let me state that I’m not one of those who looks back on their mission in gauzy, fond terms. I served in the days of the six discussions, which were often rote recitations of “milk”. But much of my personal study time and time conversing with other missionaries was spent speculating on “meat.” Anyone who has served a mission would know that missionaries, perhaps more than any other subset of Mormons, love to speculate.

    Preach My Gospel, as I read it, urges missionaries and those learning about the Gospel, to read and think deeply about the scriptures.

    I don’t know if you have served a mission or read Preach My Gospel, but I’d urge you to at least do one before making such a sweeping, uncharitable generalization.

  102. Steve Evans says:

    Andrew, where do you get off berating someone you don’t even know with such language? Calling Ashley’s post “condescending, faux-intellectual”? That’s just rude. Beat it.

  103. Re: #8

    And all mothers know that a diet of only milk after six months makes for a thin and sickly child.

    Actually, many mothers know that a diet of only milk (breast milk, that is), up until whatever age a child communicates that he is developmentally ready to begin eating other food, makes for a plump and healthy child.

  104. A large part of the frustration I have with my “church education” is not that it was not substantial or “meaty” enough, but that it was in some ways misleading. It’s disheartening to grow up with the official stories from church history, only to find out they weren’t 100% accurate. Not that history can really be 100% accurate, but it’s annoying to realize you have been told “white-washed” stories. Someone intentionally “cleaned up” those stories at some point and to have their acceptance as truth perpetuated when people obviously know better is ridiculous.

    At the beginning of the Word of Wisdom, it says that it is “[g]iven for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints“. To some degree, I have to agree that Sunday School lessons should follow this principle (if in this context, we regard weakness as lack of intellectual ability; which is not to say that those who lack intellectual ability are weak in all ways). I am not saying that anything should be dumbed down, or misrepresented. But honestly, you do have to consider that if the average IQ is 100, that means that half of the general population has an IQ of less than 100. I don’t know how the average IQ in the church compares to that of the general population, but I would assume it’s close. Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that the majority of people probably do not have the intellectual capacity to process the kind of meat that some members of the church crave. What constitutes meat is entirely relative.

    I would say that the church has a responsibility to teach us what is necessary for our eternal salvation and not to mislead us. I think there may be a bit of an overhaul needed to make what we are taught about church history more historically accurate. But most people would probably agree that we do receive the fundamentals for eternal salvation. If I feel that I need more knowledge than is available to me in Sunday School, I am at liberty to pursue it.

    The beginning of the end of my rebellious youth came with the reading of the first few verses of D&C 76:

    5 For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.
    6 Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
    7 And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.
    8 Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations.
    9 And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.
    10 For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.

    This passage did not invalidate my intellectual concerns, but it did place them in proper perspective. I needed to make concrete changes in my life in order to reap the spiritual and intellectual rewards that I was seeking. It’s all connected.

  105. I think andrew raises an important point. Preach My Gospel is one of the meatiest church publications I’ve laid my hands on. Chapter 6 is all about who we are, not what we do, and the attributes activity on p. 126 really rocks my socks off. Ashley’s statement that “it is clear that the missionary program overwhelmingly prefers regime over mind” is, in my experience, totally inaccurate. One example, from p. 177:

    “Each person or family you teach is unique. Even though you will not understand all of their interests, achievements, needs, and concerns, you should seek to be sensitive to their circumstances…You will be able to adjust your teachings as you listen to the promptings of the Spirit…Heavenly Father knows His children, so rely on inspiration to make these decisions as you teach. Pray for the gift of discernment, and pay attention to thoughts that come to your mind or feelings you have about what to teach.”

    ‘Converts that look like market products’?? Seriously?

  106. I love Henry B. Eyring’s story where he recounts how his father taught him to deal with dull talks by giving himself a mental sermon on the subject.

    For me, the lesson of that anecdote (proven true many times) is that I will get as much out of a meeting as I personally engage in it. This engagement is especially meaningful when I seek the promptings of the Spirit.

    I hope that if I suggest that the Spirit is the answer, the suggestion will not be received as “just another Sunday School answer.” (BTW, I loathe that phrase. How are we ever going to have good Sunday School experiences if we maintain that attitude in our speech?)

    Really, there is nothing less deep (or in the parlance of this conversation, milky) about having a member of the Godhead communicate with you.

    In my experience, the Spirit very rarely speaks to me about questions that the world might judge to be “deep.” Rather, it provides me the much superior service of directing me about how to get the familiar doctrines DEEPer into my heart and more DEEPly-rooted in my life.

    I truly believe that if we attend any church meeting with open ears and a contrite heart, we can be spiritually nourished in a way that will meet our individual milk-to-meat nutritional needs.

    This does not mean we will enjoy everything we experience in Church meetings, but it can help us benefit from all of our experiences, even the unfavorable ones.

    Indeed, sometimes the Spirit will somehow both impress my mind with a warning about the misguided direction of a particular ward member’s comments while simultaneously filling my heart with love and understanding for that very same child of God.

  107. If one goes expecting to discuss Zelph, second anointings, etc., one is going to be sorely disappointed.


    The thing is, I highly doubt that’s what Ashley has in mind. “Meat” is not a synonym of “esoteric.” That is always an unfortunate mistake in these discussions.

  108. Roman Meal says:

    I’m a newbie here, so please forgive me if I don’t understand the etiquette. But after reading this post, and most of the comments, I have to say that I agree with Andrew’s 100 and 101. I suppose he could have watered down his words a bit, but to be honest, his feelings seem to reflect mine.

    Specifically, to one of his points, taking even the most basic principles of our faith and finding new and real (i.e. unimagined) depth in them on a regular (even weekly) basis requires, and ultimately demonstrates, the highest form of intellect. For me, anytime my EQ Pres starts out a lesson with the question “OK, brethren, tell me, what is faith?”, it’s an opportunity for me find a new facet or connection or plane or whatever. Maybe that makes me simple? Perhaps I’m a widow at heart? I don’t know. But in most ways, I am pretty much like the dude sitting next to me in that we both have that same opportunity, whether we are discussing the meaning of faith or the location of Kolob.

  109. In his interview with PBS, Elder Packer uses “milk before meat” to illustrate how we teach church history. I don’t know if that helps define for some what is meant by “milk” and what is meant by “meat”…….

    “HW: Is there a conflict between a faith-promoting work of scholarship and factual scholarship? Is there a conflict at all?

    BKP: There can be. Some things that are true aren’t very useful. And there are those in the past who have looked at the leaders of the Church, for instance, and found out that they’re human and want to tell everything. There are steps and missteps that don’t help anything. Some think that to be totally honest they have to tell everything. They don’t. If they’ve got the mindset for that, then they’re always grumbling — they have an appetite for it. They’re free to do that, but it isn’t really productive, it doesn’t really make anybody happy.

    Someone you knew, say when you were in college, made a terrible mistake. You knew about it, and it was forgiven and lived beyond. There’s little purpose in going back and digging that out and speaking of it when their children might be present — a lot of things that are true historically aren’t very useful and don’t generate happiness.

    HW: I’d like to tell you a story from my own life. I spent almost a year on a film. I made this film in which they told me a great deal about their hopes and fears and sins of omission and commission. Let’s talk about your thoughts about that. It was a portrait of monks, and it got more mail and response than any other. It came in by the busloads. The Catholic Church was saying by showing us how human the monks are, it gives us hope. I’m sharing that because history may not obsessively focus on just the bad, but the faith-promoting. Do you see that as a possibility?

    BKP: Yes. I think that on that very subject, away from your illustration, is a matter of timing. In scripture the Lord said we’ve got to have milk before meat. Some things you can say with little reaction — it’s a matter of timing. Some things you can say privately and not broadcast. We refer to the gospel often as the “gospel of repentance.” I’m very glad for repentance, because repentance is to erase the mistakes of the past.

    HW: To make mention of another point, going along with your point about milk and meat: children, parents, educators — they’re wondering if they’re preparing their children well enough for the bumps in the road in any religion including the world on the Internet. Wouldn’t it be better for kids to be trained by smart, faithful educators who can provide the necessary context, as opposed to letting them see a whole range of things on the Internet?………..”

  110. if the average IQ is 100, that means that half of the general population has an IQ of less than 100

    SAP, I think you need to recheck your definition of average, it definitely does not mean what you state. Or did you intend to write median instead?

    And what does IQ have to do with anything? I know plenty of folks who don’t have particularly high IQ’s who are perfectly comfortable discussing meatier (not esoteric as Ronan so astutely discriminates) aspects of the gospel.

  111. The more I thought about this last night the more I realized how pretentious I can be.

    Also, the more I wished I had people in my ward who wanted to talk about this stuff so I don’t have to depend solely on the Internet for these discussions.

  112. Then that cycle repeated a few times.

  113. Steve stated (#83)

    Sanford, I don’t mean to say you’re wrong, necessarily, but your complaint is simply outdated. I have heard those complaints hundreds of times now (albeit most of them fifteen years ago). It’s simply not reflective of the current Church.

    Steve, I suggest you re-read John Dehlin’s comment (#3). In your liberal Seattle ward you likely do not experience this anti-intellectualism, I certainly didn’t when I lived in Seattle. But I can tell you it’s alive and kicking across the water in Kitsap county.

    Now, if you feel that this isn’t reflective of the general officers of the church, I would love to hear your reasons for believing so. It is my experience that the church, both the general officers and run-of-the-mill members, is part of a larger anti-intellectual sentiment (for lack of a better word) that exists generally throughout the US at the current time. There are pockets of resistance in various places, but those are exceptions, rather than the rule. DHO’s comments in The Mormons to my mind, illustrates that this sentiment didn’t leave the church 15 years ago as you would suggest.

    Like Sanford, I interpreted Ashley’s post as capturing her feelings of dealing with anti-intellectualism in the church. That may not have been her intent, but it was my perception. I just wish she would have outlined her suggestions for correction.

  114. Steve Evans says:

    Kari, I’m sorry for you Kitsapiens! But in my experience it’s not just Seattle. Every interaction I’ve had with the general officers of the Church (admittedely not that many!) has been positive. I wouldn’t frame things in terms of anti-intellectualism but rather just a wariness and a feeling of needing to trust people with things that are considered sacred. I am sure there is anti-intellectualism out there — many people talk to me about it — but I have not experienced it personally. That’s probably because I am a faux intellectual, though (grins).

    I don’t think the sentiment left the Church 15 years ago — but the sentiment was well-known and rehearsed 15 years ago and has been ever since. I was referring to the staleness of Sanford’s remarks, not their veracity.

  115. Kari, I will admit, I did not get out my statistics textbook from 8 years ago before using the word “average” but what I am referring to is the bell curve that IQ follows. With 100 in the middle roughly 50% of the population falls below that mark. I don’t believe this lack of precision in my diction gets in the way of my point, which is that not everyone is that intelligent.

    While I will agree that less intelligent people are capable of great spiritual understanding of “meatier” issues, they may not possess very much in the way of intellectual curiosity for getting into the nitty-gritty. Naturally when dealing in generalizations there will be exceptions. I would also like to note that I am not trying to be elitist when bringing in IQ, just pragmatic.

    At the same time, I must admit that there are plenty of people in possession of above average intellect who are perfectly content with their “milk” because they do not possess the curiosity. They would rather watch football than read about church history or doctrine. That is their prerogative. (Please note, I am not denying that a person can do both!)

  116. Roman Meal, if you don’t understand the etiquette here permit me to elucidate. It’s not that complicated, and I would sum it up as “don’t be an insulting jerk.” The validity of Andrew’s remarks — which I don’t really dispute — was totally eviscerated by calling Ashley’s post “faux intellectualism” and “condescending.” Friendly people don’t talk that way to each other, so I showed Andrew the door.

  117. Thomas Parkin says:


    I wouldn’t worry about it. You come across fine, to me.

    I often read back what I’ve posted online and feel, maybe not pretentious, but certainly like I’ve failed to come through myself. I feel much earthier than what I sound. I think sometimes I over do informality in order to try and bring that through – but then I just feel like I’ve made myself a fool. Also, I try to temper an edge of meanness that I sometimes feel coming through, which actually is just a temporary passing frustration.

    Finding a friend you can talk with about these things in meat life is a real blessing. I’ve got my father, but he lives in SLC now and neither of us really enjoys extended phone conversations – of more than, say 30 seconds. He is also getting older, and even when we are together we rarely have the up till 3 AM, everything is on the table discussions we used to have. I wonder if some part of the frustration people feel is nothing more than loneliness. I’ve become about as down the middle a Mormon as it is probably possible for me to be – certainly an “I know” Mormon – but I have always and still often feel on the outside of Mormon social life.

    I’ve been thinking of this in regards to an e-mail I need to answer. A certain gent holds views that would place him on the outside of general Mormon socai llife, yet he feels very much a part. I hold views that ought to cause me to feel very much on safe ground, and yet I’ve always and continue to often feel not really a part. When people talk about their childhood, youth, young adulthood in the church, I can’t really relate – although I was there, as well.

    well … who knows where that came from. Moment of Vulnerability on BHodges part, I suppose. ;)


  118. Steve,

    You make a point that I hear often, that on a personal level the general officers of the church are affable and agreeable. My personal experience (with a couple of the 12 on my mission, and then area authorities afterward) is the same. However, I often get a different impression when I hear them from the pulpit in general or stake conference.

    One question that your comment brings to mind is how exactly does one experience anti-intellectualism personally? Unless we are publishing something that the church doesn’t like (I know it’s a dated example but think of Mormon Enigma), our speaking out a lot in our meetings or publicly, our personal lives and intellectual activities never reach the consciousness of area or general authorities. We are left judging the general gestalt/sentiment from comments we hear in SS, PH/RS, from the pulpit, and in the media — from other members and local and general leaders.

    I don’t doubt you that leaders are wary about how “sacred” things are handled. It’s just that this is an over used and somewhat trite argument, because it seems that everything is sacred to the GA’s and many members of the church, from the temple ceremony to whether Adam had a navel. (yes, I know this is hyperbole) The feeling I often perceive is that sacred can only be presented as “faith-promoting” (i.e. milk), and any other way to interpret sacred events is verboten.

    As I stated, this sentiment of anti-intellectualism that I perceive, is how I interpreted Ashley’s impetus to write this post. And judging by the comments, so did many of the discussion participants. (I really wish she would take the time to join in the fray following her post, but to each her own.) I get the impression that your experiences probably would never have prompted a post like hers.

    Lastly, and I’m somewhat taking you to task here, why is it that you consider Sanford’s comments stale, and must comment on that fact, but sing Ashley’s praises (“Bravissima, Ashley”)? The milk versus meat argument is older than the discussion of anti-intellectualism. One could even argue that the anti-intellectual sentiment of the church is a direct response to intellectuals’ hunger for meat. Ashley’s post was certainly erudite, with plenty of chutzpah, but overall was fairly stale, not bringing anything new to the milk/meat discussion. I must echo TMD’s comment to Ashley, “What do you want then?” We need workable suggestions and remedies to bring freshness back to this discussion, not just a lengthy post decrying the absence of meat.

  119. SAP,

    I think we probably agree. Certainly IQ may play a role in understanding the details and nuances of many academic interpretations of gospel meat, but certainly doesn’t play a role in desire for milk or meat. As you state, plenty of folks with higher IQ’s are interested in such discussions, while I know plenty with lower or middle-of-the-road IQ’s who are.

  120. I apologize to Ashley and the community for my offending sentence. It really was quite rude, and unnecessary to what I was trying to say.

    But I stand by my other points – about receiving intellectual fulfillment even when “milk” is being taught, and about Preach My Gospel.

  121. Kari, go ahead and take me to task! I would point out first of all that none of us, really, are saying anything new. Sanford’s comments were stale, my reaffirmation of the Brethren has been said many times before, and indeed your own remarks back to me — nobody’s being quite original.

    Ashley’s post had the benefit of being well-written, clear and with enough rhetorical flair to be interesting. Her tie to Luther is similarly intriguing. Further, Ashley is our guest as a poster, and took the bold step of posting her thoughts and starting this discussion in the first place. Comments, on the other hand, are cheap and easy, with little thought involved and a minimum of social cost. In brief, that’s why I praised Ashley and condemned Sanford.

    In terms of judging the ‘gestalt,’ however, I think you’re being overly pessimistic about the way things are for intellectuals in the Church. Our experiences differ, and really it’s silly to argue over it. If all we’re doing is pitting our subjective evaluations against each other, there’s little point to the debate. We should as you say, bring workable suggestions to the table. You first!

  122. Ronan – so in this case, would a meaty discussion be one in which the ransom view and penal substitution views of the atonement are debated? Or discussions on where Alma the Elder got his priesthood authority? What is the line between esoteric and meat?
    It seems pretty fuzzy to me – and that what one of us may consider esoteric fluff the other might consider meat.
    And further, what is meat for me might be milk for Ashley. This is the rub for someone who feels unfulfilled intellectually at Church.

  123. Andrew,
    For me, meaty discussions do not have to be doctrinal. Intellectualism in my mind is not defined by knowing stuff, but a willingness to ask questions without prejudicing the answers. That’s all. How many times have you been in a church lesson where the teacher asks a question and the class spend the next five minutes trying to figure out what’s written in the book?

  124. Steve, me first? You forget, I’m just the peanut gallery here. It’s my job to take the cheap and easy shots. If I had any original thoughts, I’d have my own blog, or you’d have invited me to join yours. ;)

    With regards to the meat/milk discussion here are a couple of suggestions.

    1 – Improve the correlated lesson manuals. I don’t necessarily think correlation is a bad thing, in fact I enjoy discussion the same ph/rs topic each week with my spouse. But our current state of manuals really are very bland, and don’t go into much depth. We recently discussed the Isaiah chapters of 2 Nephi. Would it have been wrong to bring in some alternate translations of Isaiah to better understand what was being said, and why Jacob and Nephi felt it was so important to include these in their preachings? Shouldn’t we discuss the historical context of the teachings of JS? He didn’t receive his revelations in a vacuum.

    2 – Stop promoting “faith-promoting” history that isn’t factually accurate, because it’s easier to understand/comprehend than what actually happened. (think BoM “translation”)

    3 – Church meetings will never be the place for deep theological speculation, let’s not try to make it so. Allow other outlets such as independent study groups and Sunstone to continue without church condemnation. I find it ironic that DHO was on the original Dialogue board, but is now one of the (seemingly) strongest critics of such publications/forums.

    There you go, fwiw.

  125. Andrew:

    “Milk” – lessons where everyone already knows all the questions and the answers that will be asked. Lessons where everyone plays along and goes through the motions. Lessons that are endured.

    “Meat” – lessons where the questions and the answers indicate sincere thought, emotion, testimony, and so forth. Lessons where the Spirit is present. Lessons that change you.

    Of course, a lot of this has to do with where you are, but those are my definitions.

  126. It _is_ pretty funny, as Jonathan notes, that a post calling for better appreciation of accurate history starts off with a factual misstatement.* Are y’all going to fix that part?

    *I’m only aware of it myself because Jonathan pointed it out; and because I fact-checked the date, afterwards, at the Source of All Knowledge.

  127. The post incorporates by reference all factual corrections subsequently made. We can provide no assurance that such corrections will be made, or if made, will be adequate to correct any inaccuracies which may exist in the post.

  128. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    As incredible as this thread is, I believe it misses a crucial point: (IMHO) Mormonism misses the basics (what I call the Core Essentials) of the Christian gospel; there is Nothing lost about the “Plain & Precious parts” of Christ’s gospel, they’re right there in the N.Testament; it all boils down to Love for God & neighbor. Mormonism, with its excessive focus on details, is little more than a distraction away from those (sorry). Coca-cola, white shirts, tattoos-earrings, and skirt-dress lenghts (gasp!) Women de facto prohibited from wearing pants….just don’t cut it with me. Those things, it seems to me, describe the extent of Mormon thought….
    Heavenly Mother? you’d be Outta There SO FAST …
    it would make your Head Spin!
    ‘The thinking’s been DONE’!

    Unless/Until the Basics are nailed down…Why Bother with details? it’s like Decartes before de horse (again, apologies!!)

  129. Gavin Guillaume says:

    DHO was on the original Dialogue board, but is now one of the (seemingly) strongest critics of such publications/forums

    Maybe some of the fora or publications changed over time? I know a brother who was involved in Dialogue at the creation, disavowed it in the early 1990s, and has recently warmed to it again. Is it him or the publication?

  130. Gavin Guillaume says:

    You know – I think we’re all secretly glad for all of the milk at Church. Would the Bloggernacle exist if not for the milk? Where else would we kvetch?

  131. Gavin Guillaume says:

    Intellectualism in my mind is not defined by knowing stuff, but a willingness to ask questions without prejudicing the answers. That’s all. How many times have you been in a church lesson where the teacher asks a question and the class spend the next five minutes trying to figure out what’s written in the book?

    How many times have you sat through hostile apostasy masquerading as intellectualism? How many times have you sat through a lesson where the only acceptable response was to take sides against prophets and apostles? Sometimes the meat rots.

  132. So, I know this post is sort of dead now and maybe no one will read this, but I just finished moving to DC and finally had a second to read through the comments. I actually spent a couple hours the other day trying to write a longer response to all the comments I had read, but my computer erased them and I fell into cyber-despair.

    Anyway, I want to say that I wrote my original post at 4 am, hours after both the Spirit and my Inner Thesaurus had gone to bed. That is the only explanation I can give for doing something as foolish as choosing the word “intellectual” to describe something I was trying to defend. There is no more baggaged word in Mormonism than that one, I’d say. So that led to some problems…

    In using the word intellectual, as some have pointed out, I did not mean “esoterica” or “deep doctrine.” I was not suggesting that we should spend our Sundays ruminating about the exact location of Kolob or out-scripture-chasing the next guy. I meant, rather, that using our minds (our intellects, which is the root of the horribly baggaged variations of the word)is paramount to living the full gospel and not falling into convention. In other words, I was saying that we need our minds to apply the righteous action of the gospel in all the places those actions need applying. This requires good reading and good thinking, not only to understand the context of certain ideas, but the ambiguities in them and the scope of their application. Particularly, and this is what I wanted to emphasize, it requires that we keep questions and ideas alive enough that they actually move us to transform our lives and examine our obligations outside of the conventionally approved contexts. I will have much more to say about this idea in my next post (which will be an illustration about the real consequences of bad reading and over-simplified teaching), but the reason that I advocate the mind is that it (along with the heart) keeps ideas from collapsing in on and drawing false boundaries around themselves. I think that many times–whether in church, seminary, or wherever–we read with convention goggles on, and the words have very little chance of actually communicating their messages to us. That is why we need what I called “intellectual” conversation, which is another way of saying that we MUST encourage the kinds of conversations that are required by people who consider the gospel to be a live question.

    So, in response to the people who argued against making Sunday School into a gospel grad seminar, I will say this: I agree, if you are suggesting that we should avoid tedium and pointless conversation. On the other hand, we NEED it to be like a grad seminar in terms of the ability to ask sincere questions and really discuss (rather than preemptively truncate) their implications, applications, and scope. That is not something that a minority of disgruntled intellectuals do for fun; that should be the responsibility of everyone on the church! If we are not doing that, it is not because there are different church temperaments and ours is not in the majority; it is because the gospel is no longer a live enough question at all and thus nobody needs to ask hard questions about real ideas to know if they are or aren’t true.

    Because of these opinions, I disagree very much with the people who have reasserted what I argued against in my post: that using our minds is a hobby for the people who are into that kind of thing, and that asking that of others is a proud imposition on our parts. I am saying that there are lots of ideas that we insist on in the gospel, and that many of them have unfortunately lost their basis in a transformative principles. And yet, we still ask them, regardless of whether they are hard or imposing! Why not, then, ask real things of people for real reasons? Why not suggest that thinking hard–not turning live ideas into doctrinaire answers–is just as vital (literally) to the Church as simply not drinking or smoking? Further, why not use our minds to have a real discussion about the principles behind driking or smoking, rather than letting them exist as rather groundless conventions? Why not use our minds to discover the principles behind the rules and apply them as broadly as charity requires of us?

    Almost lastly, I want to respond to those who said that anyone feeling like me need only speak up in church and contribute–i.e., that my experience is no one’s fault but my own. To that idea, I will say that I spent about ten years in the Church feeling bad for being “proud” or “imposing” every time I thought that I should speak up and defend transformative ideas. People constantly told me that I should think of others’ needs before my own, and that asserting my kind of gospel was selfish and inimical to the purpose of church-going. I spent years trying to convince myself of that, until I finally accepted two things: One, that if everyone is truly equal in God’s eyes, then my ideas and needs are just as important than someone else’s and two, that nobody should ever take the proselyting urge away from anyone. Everyone who believes in something (especially someone who sees a problem that threatens the success of something they love) feels compelled to speak about those things. To suggest that everyone in the majority is not proud or imposing in their ideas simply by being in the majority is damaging to the minority–a minority that will bear the brunt of the epithets for doing exactly what the majority is doing. Therefore, it is not enough for me to suffer through a meeting in a church I do not recognize as my own, and then to come home and write a blog post about it. I should be able to go to church and speak about what I love; I should have a community in which to do those things. Church is about creating a community for ALL people. Too often, we try to accomplish this by throwing incredulity on the religious needs of the minority. Lastly, a criticism can never keep to itself, not because it is ugly or gossipy but because it sees real problems in the structures of organizations. Sure, I can sit quiet through church and be the Mormon I want to be, but that isn’t and has never been the point! If it were, I would go to church by myself. The point of church (besides learning to serve and listen to others) is to talk in a community about what you feel is important. If I think that good thinking is vital to Mormonism, I see no efficacy in sitting quietly–content that I am a good reader, and so who cares about the rest–while allowing other people to trivialize and minimize the ideas that I love. This discomfort is not about me, it is about keeping the church true as I see it. Of course, everyone gets the SAME privilege, and I must listen as much as I talk. But it is not correct to say that certain people get this privilege and others are proud or imposing for wanting the same, and it is also not right to act like defending what one sees as good and true is selfish.

    Last of lastly, the milk and the meat definition. Since I was trying to write a response post to sayings I commonly hear, I was using the saying colloquially, in the way that people use it when they talk to me. I actually disagree that there is supposed to be a separation; the way I used the terms do not represent how I conceive of the terms. I am glad someone posted the Corinthians scriptures, because those verses defy the way we often use the expression. We use the phrase as if there were two categories–milk and meat–and the basic gospel principles fit in the milk category while esoterica and speculation and intellectualism fit in the meat container. Thus, we can say that we need to focus on certain principles (the atonement, obedience, whatever) before we can move to the meat principles. Besides the fact that our emphasis keeps the latter part from ever happening, the distinction is not even correct. The Corinthians verses suggest that there is only meat, and that meat is righteosness. It says that those who require milk are not truly righteous. There isn’t a milk and meat category, there is a milk and meat method, and the milk method is specifically necessary for people who are carnal and immature. There is absolutely no prohibition here against the mind, the heart, or discussion. There is a prohibition against carnalness and a tacit prohibition against anyone who requires a truth that excuses them from really thinking and living with maturity. What I have been trying to articulate is that using our minds and hearts together keeps ideas live enough that righteousness is always a process of expanding our obligations. And, if we let our interpretations of truth become so smug or self-evident or decided, we will read and not read; we will be, as Corinthians suggests, dull of hearing. We will read, for example, passages about not suffering the laborer in Zion to perish but steamroll right over it, not because it isn’t scripture but because the way we have talked about things over years of Sundays no longer invites us to take that idea seriously–to see what it means about our economies, our business practices, our jobs, our duties (structurally and personally) to the poor–because it is not a live part of our recognized canon-within-the-canon.

    I will give further examples of this in my next post. Until then…

  133. Oh, sorry! I started the paragraph about people saying I should contribute and veered off into another topic. I wanted to say that I have tried to contribute these ideas to church for years, and that it is exhausting and difficult. I will keep doing it, but at some point it made me ask myself: why should it be so hard to have the conversations that (in my opinion) religion seems to demand? The answer is not simply that people like me need to speak up. The answer is that there are strucural problems (organizational problems) in the way that we talk and teach that creates an evironment in which it is extremely difficult to talk openly and thoroughly about the ideas we say we love. In other words, I shouldn’t have to brave silence and embarrassment and whatever every week so that I can say enough things that I believe in that I can continue to go to a church I recognize. At some point it is no longer about individuals raising their hands; it is about people changing patterns and habits and methods that create the realities that thoughtful individuals have to fight against singly.

  134. Ashley, thanks for the additional comments. I look forward to your follow-up post that you refer to.

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