Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Reason and Religion": LDS Thoughts from a Century Ago

The following article, written by Aubrey Parker of Gateshead-on-Tyne, Tyne and Wear, England, originally appeared as "Reason and Religion", The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 73/30 (27 July 1911); 477-478.  
The true religion is easily discernible, because it is in every respect compatible with true reason.  If religion has to satisfy the whole soul of man, it must satisfy his reason - for reason is an integral part of the human soul.
Men laugh and jeer at the origin of the faith of the Latter-day Saints, and call it "fraud."  But our claim for it is that it is the supernatural origin of a supernatural religion.  Had it a natural origin, compatible with the modern conception of religious inceptions, it would not be a supernatural religion and hence not true.  The miraculous has for ever been an essential part of true religion.
The true religion will ultimately "win home."  The devolution of false religion is resulting in the evolution of the true religion.  The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is essentially and eternally true.  Were every whit of scripture, ancient and modern, destroyed, the gospel of Christ would still be - for it is the everlasting gospel.  The gospel is of God, it is eternal and infinite, independent alike of time or place.  There are many forms of religion, all originating in the desire of man to worship a supreme being.  The "many sects" taken collectively have many of the principles of the true religion.  But not one of them has all these principles, though all have some, and it is by that they exist.
People are taught to look upon God in much the same way as they look upon electricity.  No one knows what electricity is, but nearly every one comes in touch with its uses in their daily life.  They study the dynamo and the motor conductors through which it manifests itself.  So, say they, it is with God.  You handle nature's gifts, and through all of these God manifests Himself.  Yet He Himself is a mysterious essence, which you may not conceive or comprehend, for in so doing you would confound Him with the grossness of the material.  Is this view a reasonable one?  Is it scriptural?  If it is reasonable or scriptural, then we have grounds for holding that view; but if it is neither one nor the other, then we should not enterain or hold it.  It is written in the Holy Bible, "This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God."  Then God is knowable.  Is it within the realm of reason to worship a God "whom ye know not?"  St. Paul sought to teach the Athenians to worship the true God in place of "an unknown God." 
Many men taboo reason as altogether alien to the true spirit of religion.  They declare in horror at him who would reason his way in religion.  "You would limit God to your own little mind," or "You would make unto yourself a material God."  True it is that a man's God can be no bigger than his conception of Him.  But is it reasonable to suppose that the God of Heaven, who Himself comprehends all things, is Himself incomprehensible?
God honors intelligent worship, and only they that worship Him in truth can worship thus.  "The glory of God is intelligence."  Reason is one of God's own attributes and He loves and honors it in His children.  "Truth is reason," and God's word is truth, and truth it is that makes us free: God's freemen. 
Some questions for reflection/discussion:
  1. Parker in this piece makes an argument for the compatibility of reason and religion: True religion addresses a person's totality as a holistic self; what addresses a holistic self, addresses the rational faculties of that holistic self; and therefore, true religion addresses the rational faculties of that holistic self.  What implications does this have for evaluating religious systems?  How does Parker employ it?
  2. Parker professes that, because compatibility with true reason is a necessary feature of true religion, it is therefore easy to discern which religion is true.  Is this the case in your experience?  Is there perhaps something to what Parker is saying here?
  3. Parker argues, against some critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that it is perfectly reasonable that a religion that lays claim to supernatural realities, should have an origin likewise bound up with supernatural realities.  What sort of critics might Parker have in mind here?
  4. Parker claims that, even if all scripture were obliterated, it would not change the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This, of course, is strictly true.  But what about the epistemic impact of such an occurrence?  What function does scripture have?  
  5. Parker opposes a common view of God that, he claims, views God as analogous to electricity.  What sort of view does Parker seem to have in mind?  Is this a fair assessment of that view?  Why or why not? 
  6. Parker seems to object to mainstream Christian views of God on two main fronts (though they seem to be related in his mind).  First, he charges that affirmation of divine incomprehensibility makes God completely unknowable and therefore not a possible object of genuine worship, which is contrary to both reason and scripture.  Second, as a subsidiary point, he seems to claim that only an inherently material God could avoid being a vague and totally unknowable being.  Has Parker really understood the dynamics of 'incomprehensibility'-language as it actually functions in mainstream Christian discourse?  Do mainstream Christians typically act in their religious lives as though God is a complete unknown, whether by reason or revelation?  Is Parker's assessment of immaterialist views of God fair to the actual beliefs of mainstream Christians who believe in divine incorporeality?  
  7. Parker scoffs at those who "declare in horror at him who would reason his way in religion".  Today, and indeed sometimes in his own day, many Latter-day Saints uphold just such a "taboo", charging that reason is merely the fallback of those who deny direct personal revelation and the guidance of modern prophets, and that it is 'worldly' rather than 'spiritual'.  (I have, for my own part, met quite a number of such Latter-day Saints.)  What might Parker say to them within his own church?  
  8. Parker says that, when it comes to religious views, there are two critical questions that we must ask: "Is this view a reasonable one?  Is it scriptural?  If it is reasonable or scriptural, then we have grounds for holding that view; but if it is neither one nor the other, then we should not enterain or hold it."  What sort of religious epistemology does this imply?  What persons or movements in the religious world today most strongly advocate for Parker's view here?
  9. In his last paragraph, Parker quotes from both D&C 93:36 and also the LDS hymn "O My Father".  He says that reason is an attribute of God himself, and so it is something he loves to find in us as well, because it reflects him.  Furthermore, truth is always a reasonable thing; reason leads toward truth, not away from it.  What might it look like for a religious community to really seek to embody this view in the way it conducts its religious life? 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Reading and Reflection, according to the Millennial Star

The following article originally appeared as "Reading and Reflection" in The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 23/30 (27 July 1861): 469-470:
There are many attainable sources by which the mind of man may be refined and improved.  Reading is one of these sources - a source from which many invaluable advantages may be obtained; but, like all other pursuits, reading, by its abuse, is rendered a source of evil, rather than being prolific with good. 
Reading may justly be said to be the staff of life to the mind.  Reading is one of the most nourishing and beneficial kinds of good with which the mind can be supplied.  There is no other mental enjoyment which is so interesting, instructive, and advantageous.  By reading we are enabled to become acquainted with every branch of science and knowledge.  We may learn the natural features of the countries in the whole world, and learn the habits of their inhabitants; we may obtain a knowledge of the starry heavens; we may descend into the earth, and learn its different geological structures &c.  In short, there are no bounds to the knowledge to be obtained by reading; and especially is this the case with the Saints of God.  They can have his Spirit to guide them in their efforts; and truly there is no bounds to the knowledge to be obtained by the Saints.  But there is another thing to be taken into consideration in connection with reading - namely, reflection. 
Montesquieu has said that reading is only idleness in disguise. 
It is so for those who read rather than meditate - who desire rather to know what others have said than to take the pains of developing their own ideas - who love reading rather than books.  A lady, who was in the habit of devouring every modern work, especially romances, said - "What matters it whether their tendency be injurious to me or not?  It is enough for me that I am amused." 
Reading is a useless labour, if we know not how to reflect and how to compare - if the good thought of a writer does not kindle our spirit, sharpen our intellect, and purify our judgment.
If we read books without consideration and without forming any judgment upon them, the ideas of others only weaken our own, and deprive our minds of all originality.  If we do not oblige ourselves to give an account of our reading, it leaves no trace, and forms no treasury of wisdom within our minds.  We must not only heap up, but select; not gather all which offers to our hand, but rather pluck those fruits alone which have reached maturity.  It is in the moral as in the physical world - that which nourishes us is not the quantity which we swallow, but rather that which we digest. 
We must be careful in selecting good food (or reading) for the mind, and then in not over-gorging our minds, but giving it a sufficient quantity, so that we may well digest it, and it may do us good.  Especial care should be taken in selecting for, and supplying the wants of, the minds of the young.  Care should be taken lest, in our earnestness for their welfare, we force so much upon them, and as a natural result make them loathe that which, if carefully applied, is of great good.  To this one cause may be accounted the existence of so many scholastic dullards. 
The seed does not grow, unless we both choose good seed and cultivate the ground into which it is to be cast.  Who does not know that a man may be deeply read in learned lore, and yet be a fool?  The wise man is not he that reads most, but he that reflects.  "Read," said Seneca, "not that thou mayest know more than others, but that thou mayest know better than others.  It is not the study itself, but the fruit of study, which we require to see."