Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The LDS Church Is Anti-Intellectualism but Not Anti-Intelligence: The Importance of Light and Truth

I have read numerous charges that the LDS Church is opposed to "too much education" - which is demonstrably false when real data is studied.  Unlike most other religious denominations, within the LDS Church the higher one's educational attainment, the more likely one is to remain religiously active.  Also, there are clear and nearly innumerable statements about the importance of education and getting as much education as is possible.  There even is the oft-referenced verse in Doctrine & Covenants 93:36 that says:

The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. 

One blogger summed up the LDS Church's view by saying that the glory of God is (not-too-much) intelligence, and the following was my response:

Yes, the title is correct – and it should be, if “not too much” means “an intellectualism which brings the person to obsessiveness or extreme pride and inflexibility”. There is a huge difference between “intelligence” (especially as our canon defines it) and “intellectualism”.

I like the D&C clarification of “or in other words, light and truth”. That gets missed in many conversations about what it means to be intelligent within the framework of the Restoration – and it defines the heart of the tension between being intelligent and being an intellectual, as those terms are used most often by the top-level leaders of the LDS Church. Intelligence becomes about clarity and real understanding, not the accumulation of information alone. Thus, my father who hated formal education and rejoiced when he escaped high school can be more intelligent than many of the students with whom I studied at Harvard who could recite all of the information they had read in classes and debate with anyone but who had no clue what it all meant and had no clarity and real understanding of the subjects they had studied and the people around them.

I think the Church, as an entity, encourages the type of intelligence described in the D&C – but, since it is comprised of individuals, that ideal gets emphasized, watered down or even rejected at each level moving throughout the organization. Thus, it’s difficult to make a generalized statement about “The Church” as a whole that is intelligent in nature without including a level of ambiguity that recognizes the tension of competing extremes and the widely varying mid-points most of us actually live.

The distinction I make is the extremes of intellectualism and emotionalism.  We are taught to study things out in our hearts AND in our minds.  When we rely on either, alone, without a balance of the two, we are prone to error.  Again, it's not intelligence to which the Church is opposed but rather the sort of focus on the mind alone that denies the heart and, eventually, all things spiritual.  It is when intelligence becomes an "ism" of its own that problems occur - and I say that as someone who greatly values study, intelligence, insight, science and the intellect. 

My only concerns when intellectualism is mentioned or discussed in the Church are when the impression is given that academic learning is bad in any way and when emotionalism is not discussed as the opposite extreme.   The ideal is a balance of heart and mind - intellect and emotion, not either one alone. 

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