After quoting from 2 Nephi 29 and Alma 29, the LDS leader and historian B. H. Roberts wrote:
“This is the Mormon theory of God’s revelation to the children of men. While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of men, and is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth, yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place.
God raises up wise men [and women] and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend…
“Mormonism holds, then, that all the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them.
“Hence it is not obnoxious to Mormonism to regard Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher and moralist, as a servant of God, inspired… by him to teach those great moral maxims which have governed those millions of God’s children for lo! these many centuries.
“It is willing to regard Gautama, Buddha, as an inspired servant of God, teaching… the truth…
“So with the Arabian prophet [Muhammad], that wild spirit that turned the Arabians from worshiping idols to a conception of the Creator of heaven and earth that was more excellent than their previous conception of Deity.
“And so the sages of Greece and of Rome.
“So the reformers of early Protestant times.
“Wherever God finds a soul sufficiently enlightened and pure; one with whom his Spirit can communicate, lo! he makes of him a teacher of men.
“While the path of sensuality and darkness may be that which most men tread, a few, to paraphrase the words of a moral philosopher of high standing, have been led along the upward path; a few in all countries and generations have been wisdom seekers, or seekers of God.
They have been so because the Divine Word of Wisdom has looked upon them, choosing them for the knowledge and service of himself…
“…it is nowhere held that [the Church’s Prophet] is the only instrumentality through which God may communicate his mind and will to the world.”
—B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints (1907), 512–13.
Also recently quoted in part on 13 October 2017 by the LDS Church Newsroom in its article “Treasuring All Truth.”
Do you agree with B. H. Roberts’ thoughts or do you think he is wrong?
Love this! And yes, I agree with B.H. Roberts. What’s more, I think that it’s not only through religious/philosophical leaders we receive truth, but also through everyday women and men. Truth comes through – and to – people trying to live and share goodness, whether or not they profess or match up with a particular belief system.
Clearly, all individuals who sincerely study and seek inspiration can receive spiritual guidance. That is irrefutable fact. But Roberts’ statement must be limited to what it is and must not be taken down the slippery slope.
Unfortunately, many younger people have taken this idea and shoved it down the slope without waiting for it to slip. Specifically, they consider athletes, actors, and TikTok stars to be inspired individuals worth seeking guidance from. They consider a celebrity’s wisdom to he equivalent to the celebrity’s viewership level.
Inspiration takes work and it takes living in a way that allows for spiritual inspiration to come. Confucius and the Buddha certainly didn’t spend their time cavorting with scantily clad women in the local honky tonk.
If only this kind of thinking—the BH Roberts and Hugh B Brown brand of Mormon spirituality with its curiosity and open-mindedness—held more sway in the church. It’s still in there but it’s largely been overwritten by the anti-intellectualism championed by so many of our leaders from Joseph F Smith to Dallin Oaks.
Roberts leaves a big one out here, though: science. Because science is repeatable, it dependably does what prophets struggle to ever pull off—reveal truths that can be verified by independent actors regardless of culture or faith—truths that require no faith at all. Joseph Smith may have seen Kolob, but anyone can see the moons of Jupiter if they buy a backyard telescope. Science (the method, not the monolithic imaginary pseudo-religion that some people like to use as a straw man) has done more to teach us about the nature of the universe and our place in it and has reduced more human suffering and death than any religion could remotely claim to. If only we, as a church, could fully embrace it.
During my formative years in the 1960’s, I’m pretty sure that learn out of the “best books” meant just that. Now it seems to be interpreted as only the scriptures, GA conference talks, and DB books. And how many GA talks are relevant? Much of the D&C has nothing to do with contemporary life and needs to be abridged. The OT is of questionable use. Etc. I’m with Roberts.
Of course truth can come from various sources. Atheists can be sources of truth and enlightenment as well. I know I’ve learned a lot from Bertrand Russell. The problem for organized religion is that in order to retain members and gain converts, it works to their advantage to play themselves up as offering a more full truth than what others have to offer. Sure, they can claim that truth comes from other religions and secular sources, but if they play that aspect up too much, then they end up undermining themselves. They have to promote themselves as the most truthful option, the most moral path, and the best choice, or else what is the point of their existence? What is their raison d’etre? So, yes, church leaders are right to give credit to other religions. But they do that only sparsely and sparingly.
I’m willing to listen to the Q15 when they testify of Christ because their stated mission is to be special witnesses of Christ (note: this was amended recently by one of them to say they are special witnesses to the NAME of of Christ but let’s not get sidetracked). When they speak about Christ, I listen and I hope I’ll hear something unique and revelatory about HIM.
But how did we get to a point where we not only listen to the Q15 testify of Christ, we also listen to them (and the Q70s) offer their opinions on everything from modesty to movies to masturbation. What makes us think that they have any unique or revealed perspective on all of these subjects that have nothing to do with Christ? The only way that this makes sense is if you believe the old adage that Mormons like to be told what to think and believe and do.
Radio Free Mormon pointed out recently that there are many subjects (how polygamy works in the next life for example) in which the Brethren say “we don’t know”. But there aren’t enough of those. Why do they pretend like they about sexuality and gender when in fact that have no idea what they are talking about? Why not just say “we don’t know” unless they are testifying of Christ?
Former TBMs like me believe that they indeed do not know any more about 95% of the subjects they speak of than the average member of the Church. I am certain that we are all entitled to receive inspiration on most subjects. God does not leave us alone. I am pretty sure that RMN followed my lead (and others) when he reversed the POX 3.5 years later. I certainly didn’t follow his lead. I knew it was wrong from day 1. So who had the inspiration?
Again, I’ll give the Q15 their place with respect to testifying of Christ. Everything else: it’s up to you and me folks.
Personal experience is another important source of truth. It’s a kind of truth that sometimes can’t be described in words.
Strongly agree with Kirkstall re: science, narrowly defined (the method, or, I would add, the majority consensus of experts who have studied whatever question we’re working on).
Side note, Roberts gives us an interesting case here, where he uses language that nowadays seems kind of bigoted (discussing Muhammad, Islam, and religious change in Arabia), but he makes a valid point (Muhammad taught wisdom and truth that we need to learn about). I wish more people were willing to live in the nuance of these cases.
“How do we know that we have done this? How do we know when we have read our own prejudices aggressively into the text, substituting our own attitudes and traditions for God’s in-the-ends?
Not everyone gets to read Greek and Hebrew, nor does everyone have access and time to peruse hundreds of commentaries.
But I think we can avoid our worst traps by choosing to hold our traditions lightly, by being ready to relinquish them when needed, and by keeping the “in-the-ends” near our heart:
“‘ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
This is the greatest and first commandment.
And a second is like it:
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22: 27-40
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13: 35
If loving God and loving one another are Jesus’s “in-the-ends,” that means that when our interpretation gets in the way of loving each other, it is time to question our tradition and take a second look.
That stance, far from being heterodox, is biblical.”
— Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible, and A Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure by Stant Litore
josh h: The origin of that idea is the horrid sycophantic talk The Fourteen Fundamentals which is full of heresy, and despite being debunked at the time keeps popping back up like the unflushable turd it is.
JCS: You know who else hung out with scantily clad women in honky-tonks? Jesus. There was a GD lesson several years ago in which the teacher asked if we could feel the spirit if we were in a bar or hanging out with “undesirable” people like drug-users and prostitutes. I was flummoxed when the majority of the class said, “No!” but I said, “Of course!” I don’t understand why anyone would think that the spirit is not there to guide us and comfort us when we may most need it. Did they not serve missions? I talked to all sorts of people in many places that weren’t comfortably middle class and “safe.” And just who are we supposed to minister to anyway? It seems it’s all about bringing casseroles to people of our same socio-economic status, not about venturing into the places where those on the margins actually are.
I had a bishop several years ago who was on a quest to keep all “outside sources” out of talks and lessons. I once got in trouble for sharing a copy of the original Wentworth letter in a lesson on the Articles of Faith because it wasn’t in the manual. Additionally, this bishop killed our RS book club by prohibiting us from reading the Classics we had chosen and instead forcing us to only read books published by the Church. It was clear that he was only interested in indoctrination, not learning.
“ Clearly, all individuals who sincerely study and seek inspiration can receive spiritual guidance. That is irrefutable fact.”
Hmmmm. Has that been studied? If so, I would be interested in your source.
I agree with JCS and differ with Angela on this one. Donald Trump openly bragged about sexually abusing women. He openly cheated on all of his wives. I refuse to believe that someone like that can be a source of spiritual truth.
“ During my formative years in the 1960’s, I’m pretty sure that learn out of the “best books” meant just that.”
I can remember that type of curriculum being included as part of Relief Society way back. I remember cleaning out my mom’s bookcase of all her old Relief Society manuals and church books after my dad died and she could no longer live by herself. “Best books” was not confined to church material—it included classics. I can also vaguely remember there lessons on becoming acquainted with other cultures in different parts of the world.
Way different today.
Does anybody else remember that type of church curriculum?
Hear! Hear! Angela. So in theory we believe God is all the omni- things he can be: present, scient, potent, etc. But the Holy Ghost is a completely different type of God. Easily offended, timid, unable to speak above a whisper, and abandons us at the first moment of trouble. With Gods like these….
To the OP’s query: I really hope truth comes from many sources, because if I’m really honest with myself, of all the people within the last 12 months who taught me something useful or said something profound, maybe one of them was Mormon, and even she was recently excommunicated.
EM: Yes! I think sometimes we have been taught to discount or lived experiences. I’m just now learning not to do that.
Josh h: I’ve got to believe that, among the Q15, even some of them knew the POX was bad form, but systemically felt they had no authority to speak up. Outside of the Q15, other than the odd member here and there that tried to justify this was somehow about love (barf), I think we all knew this was bad policy/doctrine the moment we heard it. We are all prophets.
Ivy: I don’t know how you got to the idea that I would think Trump (a serial sexual assaulter) could be the *source* of spiritual truth! I do think we have a lot to learn from people who are often the outcasts of society, but that doesn’t apply to an authoritarian narcissist who literally will not leave the spotlight. He’s a victimizer and oppressor of women and a would-be dictator. Christ went out to meet the “sinners” (meaning outcasts and downtrodden) where they were and treated them as people, unlike others did. When JCS takes a swipe at so-called “scantily-clad women” as if they are contaminants to be avoided, that is more aligned with how Trump treats women because “when you’re rich, they let you.”
I like the line from the OP stating “God raises up wise men [and women] and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend…” But depending on your view of God, truth, and prophets, that can be understood so differently.
Over the last 6+ years I have been transitioning from what would be described as common TBM beliefs and practices to a more thoughtful and critical analysis of religion, spirituality and view of God. Because of that process, and in light of how I was taught and what I believed, I really struggle now with the word “truth” in discussions concerning spirituality and religion. I don’t even know how to understand a claim of “true doctrine” or “true religion.”
I appreciate the distinction between science and religion that goes something like, “Science attempts to explain the ‘how’, while religion attempts to explain the ‘why’. We have really muffed up the ability to equality profit and learn from science and religion in the LDS Church. A healthy respect for each discipline’s boundaries has long since been abandoned by Q15 members through the generations. True science is the same as true religion, so they proclaim, and our membership flounders at times as a result.
Many OLDER individuals have done exactly what you describe. In fact, I find most younger people to be wiser consumers of media and greater examples of critical thinking than their older counterparts.
I find it ironic that those I know who
passionately advocated for “The Fourteen Fundamentals” in the past are now often the unvaccinated and unmasked at church. I suspect that it is because they weaponized the talk to go after their political opponents, not because there is any real testimony of prophetic counsel.
@Lois I remember that when I was growing up, my mom had a set of hardback books entitled “Out of the best books”, that had been published by the Relief Society and contained a compendium of American and British literature short stories and poems. This was a fantastic collection that I loved reading from. One of the most compelling stories for me as a young man was Willa Cather’s “The sculptor’s funeral”. I remember in high school reading some short stories and poems for my AP English classes and thinking, I’ve read these stories before somewhere and eventually realizing it was in this RS collection.
So it seems there was a time when the LDS church culture was not so beholden to the narrow-minded, anti-intellectual leadership elements that it is today. I don’t know if it is even possible to get back to something like that. I wish it were, but I suspect that ship has sailed. Those who would respond to that kind of spiritual learning environment have mostly been pushed out or walked away. Its too bad. Mormonism certainly started as much more open to “truths” from many sources. But not any more.
10ac: I remember my mom having that collection of books, as well. She has often mentioned how much she enjoyed and learned from Relief Society back then. Now it’s just regurgitated talks from general authorities about prayer, fasting, temple attendance, and of course the all-important payment of tithing.
The church welcomed secular sources far more in the past but seems to be firmly pulling inward.
The Relief Society curriculum, in the 1960’s, included the “Out of the Best Books” anthologies referenced in earlier comments. In the 1970’s or 1980’s the curriculum included lessons about world cultures and had a cultural refinement teaching position as Relief Society members worked to broaden their world views.
The BYU Women’s Conference, in its early years, brought in speakers who sometimes were not church members but had relevant expertise in areas such as child psychology. Later they seemed to move to only having church members speak, but speakers still spoke on secular or temporal topics. Now the conference seems to nearly exclusively bring in speakers who speak on “spiritual” topics. The conference seemed, early on, to encourage women to learn broadly but now seems to focus only on strictly focused religious topics.
BYU until somewhat recent years invited commencement speakers who were notable figures nationally, and even internationally, but not usually members of the church. Now the keynote commencement speakers are always general authorities.
Church magazines such as the Improvement Era carried articles recommending what were considered worthwhile movies (NOT produced by the church), such as The Sound of Music.
The 13th Article of Faith suggests that we seek after “anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy,” so I don’t understand why the church pulls away from these these things. Many grew up believing that we welcomed truth from all sources. I don’t see this so much anymore and see it as a great loss.
Lowell Bennion’s “An Introduction to the Gospel” was a Sunday School teacher’s supplement designed for the sole purpose of providing teachers “outside material.” His institute text “The Religion of the Latter-day Saints” has “outside material” on nearly every page. Those two books, along with his “Religion and the Pursuit of Truth” are three of the best LDS books ever written. They include copious references to third parties (philosophies of God shared with humans) that today would be dismissed as “outside material.”
I remember the “good old days” of Relief Society. The curriculum was much more flexible, and we also took initiative. We’d choose subjects we wanted to learn about, get volunteers to work up presentations – sometimes inviting outside speakers.
Mati W: “The church welcomed secular sources far more in the past but seems to be firmly pulling inward.”
Agreed – but why?
Well, back in the day it was a white man’s God-given right to, for instance, make twice as much money as females and minorities for half the work. It was a white man’s God-given right to sexually harass female co-workers – gently, of course, and in good taste, humorously alluding to an attractive anatomical component that, let’s face it, she was trying to emphasize anyway. Everybody knew this; and everybody knew their place. The erosion of white male privilege is an existential crisis for our entire civilization, but especially for men in the Church who have always had a God-given mandate to rule. To add insult to injury, young people & women now wear sweats & crocs IN OUR FACE – and this after a full night of cavorting in a filthy but OK also strangely fascinating honky tonk. Yes, circle the damn wagons. The end is near!