Faith-Promoting Rumor

Dedicated to oddments and marginalia in Mormondom and, failing that, deep doctrinal discussion

Monday, June 20, 2005

By Study and also By Faith

The following quote by Orson F. Whitney came up in Sunday School yesterday.

"Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning even by study, and also by faith."

Why did the Lord so instruct his Prophet? Why did the Prophet so teach his people? It was because God had designed, and his prophet had foreseen, a great and glorious future for that people. Chosen himself in weakness, so far as this world's wisdom was concerned, as a foundation stone of the mighty structure which is destined to tower heavenward, reflecting from its walls and glittering spires the splendors of eternity, he knew there must come a time, unless God, who cannot lie, had sworn falsely, when Zion, no longer the foot, but as the head, the glorious front of the world's civilization, would arise and shine "the joy of the whole earth"--the seat of learning, the source of wisdom, and the centre of political power, when, side by side with pure Religion, would flourish Art and Science, her fair daughters; when music, poetry, painting, sculpture, oratory and the drama, rays of light from the same central sun, no longer refracted and discolored by the many-hued prisms of man's sensuality, would throw their white radiance full and direct upon the mirror-like glory of her towers; when the science of earth and the wisdom of heaven would walk hand in hand interpreting each other; when philosophy would drink from wells of living truth, no longer draining the deadly hemlock of error, to poison the pure air with the illusions of sophistry; when love and union would prevail; when war would sit at the feet of peace and learn wisdom for a thousand years; when Zion's sons and Zion's daughters, as famed for intelligence and culture as for purity, truth and beauty, "polished after the similitude of a palace," would entertain kings and nobles, yea, sit upon thrones themselves, or go forth, like shafts of light from the bow of the Almighty, as messengers and ambassadors to the nations.

To read it in context, go here

It was accompanied by a scripture chain that included all of the admonitions to set the Lord first in one's education that I have come to expect when education and the church are discussed, but it also included D&C 88:76-80, 90:15, and 93:53. These verses are the sort that encourage one to get a liberal arts degree, not necessarily a business or scientific one. Combine this with President Hinckley's recent admission to having read a scholarly commentary on the Bible and it is possible to wonder if a trend is developing.

Are we beginning to actively encourage academic achievement in the liberal arts again? Not that we necessarily discouraged it for a while, but, in some ways, liberal arts people have been viewed with suspicion. In my field (the study of ancient religion) there was a perception in the church that the more educated one became, the more likely that one was to lose one's testimony. I have heard anecdotal evidence that this has been the prevailing thought regarding all who pursue graduate studies in the humanities (and, sometimes, social sciences).

I have always assumed that this was due to the idea that the more critically-minded you become, the less likely you were to accept irrational notions like faith and the Atonement. Additionally, the educated you became, the more likely you were to be exposed to theories that some conservatives in the church might use as litmus tests to determine a person's orthodoxy. So, in general, although higher education was always well-spoken-of and never discouraged, in my experience, there has always been a kind of suspicion of those who pursued it.

One might have asked if Elder Whitney's vision of the future is compatible with such suspicion, but I am not sure that we need to. The fact that the lesson was structured as it was on Sunday and the general trend in President Hinckley's rhetoric seem to be leading us away from viewing higher education (slightly) askance. Certainly President Hinckley wants us to get a university education and he certainly wants to fulfill Elder Whitney's vision. I think this perceived trend might be getting us closer.

What do you think: are recent events leading you to believe that we are getting closer to or farther from Elder Whitney's ideal?