Mormons Contra Scholars

On rare occasion, having the courage of one’s convictions can be admirable. While I much prefer having the courage to attack my convictions, the Mormon man who went on hunger strike to protest same-sex marriages in Utah surely disagrees. He was saved from his starvation-unto-death vow by the Supreme Court’s recent stay of the lower court ruling striking down Utah’s ban on “abominable” marriages. The Mormon Church has long been fixated on this issue, as is apparent from this 1993 statement by Apostle-Elder Boyd Packer:

There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. I chose these three because they have made major invasions into the membership of the Church. In each, the temptation is for us to turn about and face the wrong way, and it is hard to resist, for doing it seems so reasonable and right. The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.

Though it’s not surprising that gays and girls pose existential threats to old-white-male LDS leaders, their fear of eggheads is more puzzling. It’s not often that scholars and intellectuals are accused of posing threats to anyone, let alone an enormously wealthy corporate (and tax exempt) church group that operates around the world.

While I’ve long been aware of Mormon hostility to academic history and anthropology, both of which have a nasty habit of disproving official LDS doctrine or “history,” I did not know that this policy was driven by such brutal honesty. In a 1981 speech to Mormon educators, Packer pulled no punches on the issue:

“There is a temptation for the writer or teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.

If I did not know better, I might think that Apostle Packer had been reading Nietzsche:

Something might be true while being harmful and dangerous in the highest degree. Indeed, it might be a basic characteristic of existence that those who would know it completely would perish, in which the case the strength of a spirit should be measured according to how much of the “truth” one could still barely endure — or to put it more clearly, to what degree one would require it to be thinned down, shrouded, sweetened, blunted, falsified. (Beyond Good and Evil §39)

Untruth, in other words, may be a condition of life. Scholars and intellectuals be damned.


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3 thoughts on “Mormons Contra Scholars

  1. jayarava

    I’ve been of the opinion for a while now that fundamentalist religions have more to fear from history than they do from science. Or at least I find history more useful in debunking religious ideas.

  2. Larry Stout

    I’m interested in the ancient Maya (in fact, all things ancient). In ferreting out credible online resources about the Maya (weeding out, of course, the rather recent end-of-the-world nonsense and “crystal skull” bull), I occasionally run across an amateur Mormon tract with “proof” that the Maya (and other Native Americans) were/are the fabulous “lost tribes” of Israel, and that Jesus came to preach to the ancient Maya.

    Credulity unfettered is boundless. There are no limits to the human capacity for rationalization. The great majority of people equate what’s merely plausible (in their peculiar conceptions, that is) with what’s possible, and even what’s real. Moreover, it’s my opinion that many people in the country with which I’m best acquainted, the USA, conceptually expand the “right of free speech” to include some figmental “right to be correct in what I say”. I once in passing overheard a bit of conversation among women of the office clerical staff; they went from talking about the “African” one of them was putting together (that’s Afghan to you and me) to (against all odds) an enumeration of the continents; the woman who took the lead there mentioned “North America, Europe, the North Pole….” When I gently and straightforwardly informed her that there is no land at the North Pole, she became very angry. I’ve had similar experiences with other people. I get the feeling that I violated their “right” to be correct. Intellectual discourse, even at such a low level, apparently is anathema to many people.

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