I firmly believe that Latter-day Saints not only have nothing to fear from the academic world, but have a divine obligation to learn from and take seriously “secular scholarship.” I believe the Lord when he instructs his people to learn from the best books. However, there seems to be a profound mistrust of scholarship by many members of the church. Two recent episodes:
1. Recently in my elders quorum, a newly married convert of the church asked what resources for studying the scriptures members of the quorum had found useful, including other translations. My EQ president hastily insisted that members only read those publications which have been produced by the church because of the risk of learning “false doctrine” from other books. He seemed utterly alergic to the idea that members of the church might be interested to know something more than what the manuals supply.
2. In a recent post by eccentric blogger Mark Bulter, he matter-of-factly stated: ” The ivory tower is a better approximation to the great and abominable church than any other organization ever was.” Here, the dismissal of research that might cause him to modify his reading of scripture was justified as a righteous, pious act. Meanwhile, those who belong to the “ivory tower”, his slur towards academics in the “humanities and social ‘sciences’”, you know, the ones in the “cult of the natural man”, are depicted as being in league with Satan himself. I am sure that he would like to see BYU get rid of all of its professors in these fields. Basically, the only things he thinks we need to learn can be taught in a training camp somewhere in the mountains, which will prevent us from being infected by these so-called scholars.
Basically, I want to know where this impulse comes from in the church. Does this have to do with our isolated and isolatinist history in the 19th c.? Does this have to do with a demonstrable number of people going innactive who have actually learned something outside of Mormonism? Personally, I remain optimistic about Mormons and Mormonism in relationship to “secular scholarship”, but why do so many of my brothers and sisters disagree?