In the comments thread of the post about Nate’s little problem, Ryan articulately described a related problem with Mormon liberals:
“The reason I bring that up is that I believe the character and motivation transfer closely to the snark, which is simply the better-educated cousin of the simpler debunker. I have no problem with the beliefs of my less “orthodox” friends, who prefer to think more critically about church hierarchy, history, doctrine, etc. than I do. My problem is that they wish so often to be the cool, informed person that is able to show why the simple believers are foolish.”
While I don’t think I’m (usually) boring or insulting, I did feel brought up short by Ryan’s critique, and I’ve been thinking about why.
It has been a long time since I went through my (mercifully brief) “debunking” stage–I don’t feel any need to go around telling people about the more unsavory aspects of polygamy or to announce in Sunday School “most scholars agree that Daniel is a fictional character.”
But I do still worry about people whose testimonies seem like hothouse flowers–unable to survive the slightest cold draft of any question of prophetic fallibility or a history any more nuanced than _The Work and the Glory_. It sometimes seems to me that our Sunday School and Relief Society lessons are designed to carefully erect and maintain the hothouses in which such testimonies grow. My favorite example is the biographical sketch in the Brigham Young manual, which states that Brigham “remarried” after the death of his first wife, Mary Ann. (I should say!!)
Most of the time, I think people manage to deepen the roots of their testimonies by the natural process of bumping into imperfect people in the church and being nourished and loved, as well as annoyed, by those very same people. Absolute worldviews in otherwise psychologically healthy people tend to be corrected by quotidian encounters with reality, and I doubt that I can usefully accelerate the process.
What I do feel I ought to do something about is that fact that we often talk as though it were possible to grow spiritually without growing intellectually, as though people who don’t feel the need to deepen their knowledge of the gospel and the church and the world can adequately progress on the basis of “faith” or “righteousness,” which we somehow believe do not involve curiosity and mental effort. I do not think this is so. Here’s how C.S. Lewis puts it in _Mere Christianity_:
“…because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are “good,” it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding. …He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first class fighting trim. …The fact that what you are thinking about is God…does not mean that you can be content with the same babyish ideas which you had when you were a five-year-old. …The proper motto is not ‘Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever,’ but ‘Be good, sweet maid, and don’t forget that this involves being as clever as you can.’ ”
So this presents a dilemma: of course it is the rawest hubris to suppose that one needs to go around “educating” one’s fellow Saints. On the other hand, those of us who have glimpsed (as we suppose, at least) the joys and the redemptive possibilities of intellectual engagement are bound by the same commandment as those with other spiritual gifts to keep our lights out of bushel baskets. How can one who is convinced that thinking and studying deeply are both an obligation and a delight properly bear testimony of that conviction to others who seem content to ignore the intellectual aspects of spiritual development?