“Seek Ye Out of [All] the Best Books”

There is an an oft-quoted scripture from the LDS Doctrine and Covenants (88:18) that reads “. . . seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom.”  I think it is currently being misread by the leaders and membership of the Church.

The idea of reading was emphasized by Apostle John A. Widtsoe when he said that the obtaining of knowledge is a religious requirement.  “Man must forever seek out knowledge, put it to proper use, and train his will to intelligent living.”  Then he added for those who think gaining an education ends with graduation:

Among Latter-day Saints, education becomes a life-long process.  Young and old alike must be engaged in the development of their natural endowments.  In fact, it is expected of the members of the Church that they continue their education throughout life.

He goes on to encourage daily reading:

. . . a person who engages in regular daily reading, if only a few , minutes a day, in the course of a year becomes a learned man.  But it must be a regular daily habit.

Unfortunately, LDS Church members frequently fall prey to the definition of “best books.”  In an article in the New Era, Dean Jarman writes:

What kind of wisdom could best strengthen faith?  If we specifically talking about faith in Jesus Christ, the wisdom we must seek is the word of the prophets.  The best books containing the words of the prophets are the standard works and the conference addresses.  Faith comes by hearing or reading the word of God as it is spoken and written.

Such a parochial view for developing faith is both shortsighted and misplaced.  While I have not read the full Widtsoe piece that is quoted above, I’m sure he is talking about reading a wide variety of  “the best books,” not just church books.  And that would apply to faith as well as other subjects.  Certainly there are an impressive variety of non-Mormon scholars that can contritbute to the development of faith in Jesus Christ.

John Lewis, Vice President at BYU, Standing in Front of "The Fourth Thousand Years," a Scuptural Piece by Adam Bateman

Some would argue that not all knowledge is of equal value.  According to Joseph Fielding Smith,

. . . There is a great fund of knowledge in the prossession of men that will not save them in the kingdom of God.  What they have got to learn are the fundamental things of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This anti-intellectualism runs counter to the idea of learning from “the best books.”  Who is to say that learning about science will not enhance our faith in Jesus Christ.  While Joseph Fielding Smith and John A. Widtose were friends, they were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to the relationship between science and religion.  I feel much more confortable with Widtsoe’s view than I do with Smith’s.

Note:  All the quotes from this post are from Dean Jarman’s article.

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This entry was posted in Books, mormonism, Religion, transhumanism, widtsoe. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Seek Ye Out of [All] the Best Books”

  1. devan says:

    I agree w/ the post, but feel that your interpretation of Pres Smith’s quote was limiting. I’m confident that Pres Smith encouraged education in every way (science or religion). I believe that he was merely emphasizing that an understanding of Christ, His gospel, and Atonement are of most importance. I would add that such an emphasis would give purpose, context, and be an enhancing force in secular learning, which I agree is very important and should be acquired daily.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Sorry, I can’t give Pres. Smith a pass on this issue. He was a OT biblical literalist with a strong disbelief in evolution. He held onto his literalism despite the evidence of science, history, archaeology, paleontology, etc. His attempt to keep Mormonism in the conservative Christian camp continues to do a great deal of harm to the Church. If, in fact there is a youth exodus from the Church, he must share some of the blame. His anti-science views continue to be a problem for the 21st-century Church.

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