Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Nathan B. Oman on Intellectuals

On this blog we discuss intellectuals from time to time, so I was especially interested in an article by Nathan B. Oman that was published by the Interpreter.

Long-time readers know that I think the Interpreter, starting with the arrogance of its name, is a pretentious organization of self-appointed experts who promote M2C, revisionist Church history, etc. But that doesn't prevent me from reading it occasionally because I value diversity of views (unlike the M2C citation cartel).

And sometimes we see an important article posted there, in this case by Nathan Oman, one of the reliably excellent authors.

Here's the link:

https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/welding-another-link-in-wonders-chain-the-task-of-latter-day-saint-intellectuals-in-the-churchs-third-century/#more-20918

I encourage everyone to read it. I agree with much of what Oman writes here, so I'll just mention a couple of points that occurred to me when I read the paper.

1. Oman mentions the highly successful British Mission (1837-1841). Back then, the Twelve and other missionaries emphasized truth claims. The first issues of the Millennial Star published Oliver Cowdery's eight letters, including Letter VII. While we live in different times, those truth claims endure (or should endure), yet many members of the Church are completely unaware of them. Certainly missionaries are unaware. Maybe the Missionary Department could experiment with making truth claims like those made during the British Mission.

2. Oman says that by 1901, "Convert baptisms had slowed to a trickle." Note 13 says that there were 310,000 members, including 20,000 added during the year. That looks like nearly a 7% increase, which, if applied to today's 16 million members, would mean over 1 million people added in the last year. It's no secret that actual growth is far, far below that today. I wouldn't characterize a 7% increase as a trickle.

These are minor points, so lets turn to the main point.
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This extract from the abstract establishes the main point well (emphasis added):

Abstract: This is a challenging moment for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints. Both its efforts at retention and missionary work are less effective than they have been in the past. At this moment, what is the most important task facing Latter-day Saint intellectuals? In contrast to those who argue that faithful thinkers and writers should focus either on defending the faith or providing criticisms of the Church’s failings, this essay argues that the Latter-day Saint clerisy should focus on celebrating the Restoration and finding new language in which to express what makes the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ a compelling and attractive force in people’s lives. 

This is a tremendous insight. Celebrating the Restoration as "a compelling and attractive force in people's lives" is an answer to the apathy and ennui we see among too many members today. Maybe new language would help, but I think a new focus would make a bigger difference.

Before I get to that, I'm not sure intellectuals are the right audience for Oman's message. They should be, for sure. But in my experience, many of them are satisfied with their secure Church employment and their assumption that, because they've been hired by the Church, their views are correct, endorsed by the prophets, etc.

In today's Church, we have prominent intellectuals who spend a lot of time (and money) (i) revising Church history to resurrect and adopt long-discredited theories (such as the stone-in-a-hat translation), (ii) promoting M2C (the Mesoamerican setting is an obvious hoax to the rest of the world and to more and more members), and (iii) debating arcane issues very few people care about.

If Oman's message gets through to them, all the better.
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The new focus we'd like to see involves an aspect of Church history and doctrine that seems to have been overlooked for a long time. It's what I call the Fifth Mission, or establishing Zion.

Some time ago I was going to publish a book titled "Zion Without Us," but my publisher talked me out of it. The basic premise is that we Latter-day Saints have not lived up to the ideals set out in the scriptures and by the prophets regarding the establishment of Zion. We do okay, but by and large, as a people, we've squandered our spiritual inheritance and instead continue to value wealth and status over equality and fraternity.

I've written about this elsewhere, but we seem to ignore the scriptures that make us uncomfortable on this topic. For example, D&C 49:20 has not been quoted in General Conference since 1968, although earlier prophets and apostles did discuss it. Does that mean it is no longer binding or relevant?

People throughout the world are focused on the issues of equality and justice, including economic equality. The Restoration included solutions that, for the most part, we've abandoned. True, the self-reliance and assistance programs are awesome. There are Church members who live well below their means because they assist others. But throughout LDS culture, we see an emphasis on prosperity, big houses, expensive cars, status, popularity, and all the rest of what the world values.

When the prophets have discussed these topics in the past, the members have largely ignored them, so why should the prophets persist?

Because Oman's article addresses the intellectuals, let's consider how that is working out. We have a few Church employee intellectuals who, because of their ideological preferences, denigrate the different beliefs of Church members who faithfully pay their tithes and offerings, despite having living standards far below those of the Church employees whose salaries and expenses are paid by those contributions. There is an example of that attitude in the comments to Oman's article, as there usually is in the Interpreter.

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Oman's article is awesome in many ways, but I don't think using new language is an adequate solution; after all, the King James Bible hasn't changed much since 1611, and yet is retains relevance around the world (granting that newer translations are becoming more popular). The scriptures are continually renewed as each generation discovers them for itself.

In my view, we are so far from the ideals established in the Book of Mormon that D&C 84:55-57 seems to remain in effect.

Oman's article is awesome for the attention it brings to this topic. If you haven't read it yet, do it now.

https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/welding-another-link-in-wonders-chain-the-task-of-latter-day-saint-intellectuals-in-the-churchs-third-century/#more-20918

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