I brought Lowell Bennion’s “Do Justly and Love Mercy: Moral Issues for Mormons” to church with me today, I got it for Christmas and I have wanted to take a closer glance. What I have discovered in reading Bennion is that his way of thinking closely mirrors mine. Well…sort of. He is clearly smarter, more articulate, and more faithful than me. However, his thought seems to reflect an engagement with the great moral and social thinkers of the Western cannon, particularly Aristotle and Kant. I find that Bennion provides a humanistic approach to Christianity and Mormonism that I have not found elsewhere.
I thought to myself this morning “I should start a series of posts on my thoughts about Bennion.” But, I have a number of things that I should be doing instead. However, things changed this afternoon, when I came across the following 2004 comment on Times and Seasons:
However, right up there I would put just about anything ever published by Lowell Bennion. And I feel really bad about that. By all accounts — including from several folks I know well and greatly respect — he was a wonderful person. He clearly had a huge impact on a great many people, but maybe it was exposure to him in person that made the difference. (I never met him.) I’ve also been told about his brilliance, his wonderful dissertation on Max Weber at Strasbourg, etc., etc. He has been characterized to me as one of the leading Mormon intellectuals of all time. But I just can’t see it. Everything I’ve ever read by him seemed, well, pedestrian.
I realize that he devoted much of his time and energy to charitable endeavors, to service and to teaching. And I have no doubt that that is choosing the better part. In hundreds of thousands of cases, the world would be better off if the wood used to produce books had been left in the forest and the time and energy of their authors had been devoted to charity, instead. But, while Brother Bennion may have been a saint, his writing leaves me, at least, entirely cold.
This got me a bit worked up. Brother Peterson may be an expert on ancient scripture and languages, but I get the feeling from the comment that he did not understand the purpose of Bennion’s intellectual project, or the connection between that project and his service and teaching.
Like Hugh Nibley or Leonard Arrington, I never knew Bennion. His son was President of Ricks College when I was a student there, but that was long before I knew of Lowell Bennion, a name I first encountered at the University of Utah, where the Service Learning center is named after him. Having worked in the social service sector in Utah, I am familiar with his reputation in the Salt Lake City-area non=profit community. However, my introduction to his work is much more recent. I think I may have found what I was looking for and I would like to investigate it with you here at FPR.