Advice for a Mormon Intellectual, Part 2
Will you be able to explain your exception-taking? If you're going to take exception to assumptions of your discipline, you will need to be able to give good intellectual reasons for doing so.
8) Perhaps this is another way to say the same thing, but before you begin a study or critique of Mormonism, ask what kinds of fundamental commitments you have when it comes to questions like what it means to be human, how we come to know, what are the foundations of ethics and morals, and what it means to say that something is real. Though these sound like only abstruse philosophical questions, what you do in your discipline will involve having taken a position on these things and more. The positions you take on them, even unconsciously, will color not only the work you do in your discipline, but also your study and interpretation of Mormonism. It will also influence your faith.
9) Though much in Mormonism may be unique, it also has much in common with other faiths. We ought to recognize those with pleasure and joy, and we should celebrate them with those who are not LDS. We ought not to make more of our uniqueness than appropriate. At the same time, however, making these comparisons requires keen insight, great care, and good judgment so that important differences are neither leveled off nor overlooked. We owe that both to the integrity of our faith and to integrity of other faiths.
10) Keep in mind that Mormonism may have a greater tendency to morph more than other faiths. Considered diachronously, some accounts of Mormonism and Mormon belief may be contradictory, and there is perhaps no synchronous account without unexplained or nonintegrable gaps. There may be no one, satisfactory story of Mormon belief.
For example, we have many metaphors of how the atonement works, some inconsistent with others. Yet few Latter-day Saints are concerned about the incommensurability of those metaphors. Frankly, asking which metaphor is correct is probably a bad question. I suspect that offering a conceptual scheme that pretended to capture the atonement completely without remainder would be equally a mistake.
These points I've made about being a Mormon intellectual ought not to be given any particular authority. They are just my best try at saying some of the things I have been thinking about. But they are occasional thoughts, thoughts of the moment. Give me a week or even a day and I'm likely to think differently. I doubt, though, that any future rethinking will veer sharply in another direction. What will change will be details and, I hope, better ways of explaining myself. Consider them a tentative, revisable gift from a friend.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.