Neal Kramer, a friend of BCC, returns again to post. See his earlier post here.
I believe it is fair to say that many intellectuals have found Mormonism rather stultifying.
Certainly, the middle decades of the twentieth century were characterized by the retreat of intellectuals from strong support for the underlying foundations of Mormonism, namely, the Book of Mormon and the history and teachings of Joseph Smith. In some ways and in some places, I think this retreat continues. It takes and has taken many forms: Book of Mormon archaeology and historicity; alternative explanations of Joseph Smith’s account of his life and visions; replacement of faith with politics; the confusion of culture with doctrine; the demand that intellectual (perhaps scholarly or aesthetic authority) be given a more prominent place in the kingdom; and concern about civil and human rights issues. In each case, intellectuals seem to have chosen either adversarial or apologetic positions vis a vis the institutional church. I strongly support the institutional church, its leaders, and its mission; however, I wish to explore briefly why I think Mormonism can provide intellectuals intense pleasure and satisfaction by challenging our minds and expanding our understanding.
It is tempting, to paraphrase Alexander Campbell, to believe that Mormonism is simply a convenient compendium of simplistic answers to a few questions about Christianity peculiar to the environment in which Joseph Smith lived. Others might say it is inadequate in its scope and message to comprehend the immensity of the cosmos, the immense power of technology, and the promise of power over the universe offered by science. I find such thinking both simplistic and insufficient. Here are five doctrines which belie the claim.
1. Matter is eternal. It can neither be created nor made. It extends infinitely in all directions. It cannot be comprehended by language, mathematics, or any other human capacity. It lies beyond our power to control it. The evidence of our lack of control is life and death.
2. Celestial marriage, or the fullness of the priesthood, is the fullness of joy. When Eve fell, Adam joined her. Bound together less by their transgression than by their hope for redemption, they courageously left the Garden of Eden. As the truest expression of their hope, they had children. The love at the heart of their experience generated both evil and good, with the good being made known by the evil and therefore cherished more even as their redemption was postponed. We are their offspring, heirs to the evil and the good, to the fullness of joy.
3. A chief characteristic of the true God is parenthood. In him and through him we live and breathe. His work and his glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of mankind. His connection with us is intimate and personal, of the sort that suggests that his happiness is interwoven with our experience here and his hope for the same kind of joy he also promises to us through the great plan of happiness or redemption. He allows the sacrifice of his only begotten son in order to offer us this promise.
4. The true church of God must be organized according to revealed patterns associated with priesthood offices and powers. The Church exists not to perpetuate itself or achieve worldly power and influence. Its primary purposes are built around redemption of the living and the dead and the remarkable symbolic representations in the holy temples of pre-earth life, mortality, the incarnation and atonement of Jesus Christ, and life after death in God’s Celestial Kingdom. The church perfects the Saints, redeems the dead, and proclaims the Gospel.
5. God is a personal being, not an idea or an essence. His perfection and his being are inseparable from one another. He has character, makes choices, respects agency, and experiences passion. God is neither isolated nor alone. He has no desire to be alone. He is a being, part of whose perfection exists in relation to others, serving and loving them.
The intellectual pleasure of studying these doctrines is only enhanced by the community of intellectuals who find the same pleasure. As one studies with Parley and Orson Pratt, Joseph F. and Joseph Fielding Smith, B. H. Roberts and Orson F. Whitney, Dallin H. Oaks and Neal A. Maxwell, one is presented with the delightful challenge of encountering gifted minds exploring the multifaceted character of Mormonism. They find what I miss, suggest directions for further study, irritate me with their conclusions and their stubborn unwillingness to see things my way. Sometimes I fume with delight as I wrestle with ideas I do not yet understand, and yet I read on. What will I learn next? What can I learn from their disagreements with me?
And so I say Mormonism pleases my mind. It is inexhaustible. It is inspiring. It is beyond me. And I love it.