Mormon Intellectualism: An Oxymoron?

In an op-ed piece published in the SLTrib (25 Sep 2011) by Gary James Bergera, the author states:

Mormon intellectualism is sometimes half-humorously dismissed as an oxymoron.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Although the relationship can be rocky, Mormonism has always championed critical thinking. . . .

I have two issues with Bergera’s article.  First, I wondered if his op-ed piece was written tongue-in-cheek?  I have convinced myself that that is not the case.

Second, I wondered about the definition of “intellectualism?”  It has both a positive and a negative meaning.  According to Wikipedia:

Intellectualism denotes the use and development of the intellect, the practice of being an intellectual, and of holding intellectual pursuits in great regard. . . .  Socially,, “intellectualism” negatively connotes:  (i) single-mindedness of purpose (“too much attention to thinking”), and (ii) emotional coldness (the absence of affection and feelings.)

Is he discussing “intellectualism” (or similar terms) in the positive sense or the negative sense?  I have convinced myself that it is in the positive sense.  However, many Mormon leaders have used it in the negative sense, trying to ridicule those who use intellect instead of prayer, meditation, devotion, and revelation.

Assuming that the article is not tongue-in-cheek and defines “intellectualism” in the positive sense, I have several additional thoughts:

  • His example of Talmage, Widtsoe, and Merrill is seriously out of date.  With the passing of Widtsoe in 1952, the LDS Church started to gravitate toward Christian conservatism, and the anti-intellectualism and biblical literalism that that implies.  In some respects, that evolution continues today.
  • In the early part of his op-ed piece, most of Begera’s examples of Mormon intellectualism are inspite of the Church, not because of it.
  • I’m not convinced that the LDS Church increasingly advocates a “warts-and-all” approach.
  • Most of Bergera’s examples deal with LDS Church history.  What about the sciences and engineering?

His conclusion, “Mormon intellectualism is no joke, but an invigorating enterprise that actively engages Mormonism’s best minds.”  But is that because of the LDS Church leadership, or inspite of it?  And that is the $64,000 question.  Bergera’s article, while a good start, needs a much deeper examination.

Gary James Bergera’s op-ed piece:  http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/52568573-82/church-lds-mormon-history.html.csp

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One Response to Mormon Intellectualism: An Oxymoron?

  1. dieta says:

    Assuming a posture similar to the Protestant fundamentalists in their confrontation with modern science the anti-intellectualism of these Mormons discounts the need to come to terms with secular thought. Only that knowledge from science that conforms with their religious presuppositions is acceptable..While the most vocal representatives of this anti-intellectualism among ranking Mormon authorities during the past two decades have been Ezra T.

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