(You all need something a little less stressful today)
My father is 86 years old. Before he retired back in the 1990s, he got into computers at his job. After his retirement, he kept up with computers, and then got into Apple’s iPhones and iPads. Today at his age he is teaching Apple iOS classes at his retirement community. After Christmas he has a full class of old people that got an iPad or iPhone as a gift, and they want to be able to Facetime with their grandkids. One one of my teenage grandkids called their great grandpa once to ask about some new feature in the latest iOS update. I suppose that does not happen in many families. My mother at the same age is taking art classes and recently sold several paintings. The painting above it one of my hers.
I’ve always been the curious type. When hiking as a kid when I was eight or nine, me and my friends came upon a bunch of old radios in a trash dump. While my friends threw rocks at them, I looked inside them, and wondered what all the funny looking components were. I was particularly fascinated by the fan like part in them, and how I could turn a nob on the front and make them move. I later learned in an electronics class at school that it was a variable capacitor used to tune the radio to different channels.
My family had the old World Book Encyclopedias. My Sunday afternoon ritual as a teenager was to lay on the living room floor and just pull out a random volume, and start reading.
I believe the secret sauce of life is curiosity. It keeps you alive, and makes life interesting. Of course, as the old saying goes, curiosity killed the cat, or killed your religion. From the first time I heard the Noah and the Ark story, I wondered how he got all those animals on the boat, how he fed them, and having been around farm animals as a kid, I wondered what he did with all the poop. As I got older and learned about sex, I wondered who Adam and Eve’s kids married. Not each other! How gross!
At my University the LDS Institute director subscribed to Sunstone, and would leave them out to read. I read lots of them, and found likeminded people with the same curiosity about religion, history, and Noah’s Ark. I always wonder if the same curiosity that makes me a good engineer at work, has also doomed my view of religion?
Are there certain personality types that are not a good fit for religion in general, and the Mormon religion in particular? Is the gift of curiosity and skepticism that suits me so well at work a blessing or a curse?
Are you a naturally curious person? How has that affected your religiosity?
Actually those that ask questions and wonder about the wonderments of our Creator make the best disciples. One can also throw in an occasional argument with God. His best friends, Abraham and Moses, did that very thing. Faith (best defined as trust) is not blind obedience. Rather it is based on experiencing God and coming to trust Him.
The Church is another thing.
Nice post, BB; thx for sharing the (quite good!) painting from your mom. Your World Book experience mirrors mine; my parents had little extra cash, but they did invest in the 1949 version of The Book of Knowledge. That set of books opened my window to The World.
As far as science-vs-religion, I always assumed that they were like parallel universes where the “facts” in one didn’t necessarily need to coincide with those of the other. This eased my mind to all the conflicts that are so abundant between the two, but my comfort zone was shaken in 1980 when I was talking to a BYU graduate who apparently was taught, and who sincerely believed, that the Andes Mountain Range was raised up at the time of the great American-continent-wide upheavals reported in our Book of Mormon around 34 AD. I wondered if he had ever given even a moment’s contemplation to the erosion and geoforming processes of the natural world . .
I know various people (and I’m thinking of one particular individual in my extended family) who are very smart and very skeptical and very curious, and their skepticism and curiosity makes them smarter. But the one exception to this relationship is their approach to the Church. In all fairness, their justification for the absence of curiosity and skepticism towards the Church is based on what they consider their strong faith. They are so “faithful”, they don’t feel the need to ask or have answered the many questions that a healthy skeptic would naturally have about the COJCOLDS.
I find if extremely frustrating that these kinds of people often simply refuse to engage in the critical analysis of truth claims. I don’t mind of they ultimately come up with different conclusions than I do. What I mind is when they won’t even look at the questions.
I grew up a reader. I read all available books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, staring at maps, etc. Growing up, my family went to the library most weeks in place of a formal FHE. I still read countless news websites from many countries and watch documentaries to get different perspectives and to learn history and science and why things are the way they are.
I agree that a dogmatic religious perspective are foredoomed for certain personalities. As a big encompassing tent of “all are welcome” shrinks, more people are not good fits.
For me, the secret sauce of life is a combination of learning, family relationships,, running and being in nature. If you can combine any of the four, I am all in.
Each of us has talents with potential which needs to be explored. Each of us has an individual secret sauce. Do not let societal or religious norms taint your sauce, your true happiness and your personal life interests with their own.
Thank you again, Bishop Bill.
I joined the Church 48 years ago and found the teachings of the Church intellectually liberating. I still do, but I give some members of my Ward the vapors when I quote DC 93 (the glory of God is intelligence), or DC 88 ( read from the best books). Somehow, Church has evolved, in my almost 50 years as a Mormon, from having to show your Bishop in your missionary interview, that you knew the scriptures—to an interview with pablum and Kleenex, and devoid of real content/
In the meantime, I go to Benchmark Books (Main and 33rd South in SLC) about twice a year to buy books that interest me about the Church and keep my Mormonism alive.
Please keep up the good fight:
Have there been any apostles who were engineers?
I thought this was going to be about creativity until the end.
I do not think of my self as curious, but skeptical and looking for better alternatives.
Most houses in Australia are brick veneer, with timber or steel frame. I designed and built my home with eco blocks (which are insulated formwork) with 150mm of concrete, with pre cast concrete roof on the bedrooms, and 250mm cool room panels on the living areas.
I do agree that different types are less suceptible to religious/emotional/spiritual situations.
I have been watching the commonwealth games and have been amazed at the number of atheletes that cross themselves, or look skyward, as if God will favor them.
This post resonated with me very much. Like others of you reading our 1971 World Book Encyclopedias was as much fun for me as reading the dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. I was blessed with grandparents who, because they and their group of friends couldn’t afford to go to college, bought a 19 volume set of books that were the equivalent of at least BA in all branches of learning for the 1920’s. Three nights a week they and this group of friends got together to teach each other and to learn. They passed their love of learning and the books on to their 5 children (my dad got the books when they died), but it was my dad who really studied the books intensely and became the first person in the family to go college and to graduate as one of the first MBAs from the University of Utah.
Dad in turn passed that love of learning and asking questions on to me and to my sibs who are all younger than me. At dinner every night my dad would ask us what interesting things we’d learned or discovered for ourselves. Saturday was library day when Dad would pile us in the car and take us to our local library. It was never a “grab and go” experience there. Rather we all took our time to find books that looked interesting and then spent time looking at special exhibits and attending programs sponsored by the library. Dad was always interested in what we were reading. He was also learning new things up until he slipped into a coma 36 hours before he died from Parkinson’s Disease. His mother, our amazing grandma, always gave us books as gifts, tickets to the ballet, art exhibits and musical concerts and also took us to the library whenever we went to stay with her and our grandpa during the summer and school holidays.
After attending my 1st grade teacher’s Lutheran wedding ceremony right after school let out for the summer I became interested in how other people worshipped. A Catholic Church was just around the corner from where we lived and I was curious about how they worshipped. My favorite book at school was the Time/Life The World’s Great Religions which I read over and over. Dad, who was then a bishop encouraged my desire to learn about other faiths even though my mom was worried that I was somehow going to abandon the church at age 8 to convert to Judaism or become a Zoroastrian. He encouraged me to attend other worship services when I was invited to go by friends. Since that time the knowledge that I gained from reading and rereading that book has been invaluable when I have performed at the worship services of other faiths.
All of this reading, learning and questioning has been a blessing in my life and in that of my sibs. It has also made us stick out from other people in our wards and within the larger families on both of my parents’ sides. Our mom, who is extremely intelligent has no intellectual curiosity whatsoever, and that has made it difficult for us to find things to talk about. She spends her day watching Fox News.
At church (when I was still attending before a painfully arthritic spine and Covid got in the way) I know that both my husband and I have made some people uncomfortable because we have read a lot more than just the standard CFM and study of the prophets books (a lot of the books are by non-LDS authors whom we greatly respect) and have a different viewpoint on various church topics because of our reading and learning. I remember giving a Sunday School lesson about the glory of God being intelligence and reading out of the best books. Nearly all of the class members excused their lack of knowledge of most topics that weren’t sports and politics by saying that they didn’t have time to learn or the money to read books. Couldn’t they just read the scriptures and be okay? This attitude saddens me because I’m old enough to remember when the church actually published abridged versions of great works of literature as part of their “Out of the Best Books” series, the poetry and short stories that were part of the RS Magazine that Grandma received every month and the marvelous cultural arts lessons that we had in RS until 1995 when the F3 decided to make us all study the same boring teachings of the prophets.
I hope that I’m wrong, but it feels to me like the leaders of the Church are afraid of members being well read and knowledgeable about a great many topics. Why? Besides the obedience thing is there any other reason that would cause them to feel threatened by having an intelligent and knowledgeable membership? Could anyone answer this question for me?
Taiwan Missionary: “pablum and Kleenex”. That pretty well sums up current environment of CFM correlation and testimonies of tears.
Right before pandemic my bishop called my husband and me in for a meeting. Nope, not a calling change, but rather to make sure we knew it is “dangerous” to be smart and much better to move on pure faith!! No clue what we did or said that was so scary, or who reported us as “dangerously smart.” After this attack and returning home it took a few hours to decide we would choose to take “smart” as a compliment rather than a smear. Home church was a timely blessing in my home, you can imagine.
Still not sure how the bishop expected us to “fix” being smart!! Can one repent for that???
Bishop Bill asks: “Are you a naturally curious person? How has that affected your religiosity?”
I was a naturally curious child who asked “too many questions ” and was later taught to make myself quieter to be non-threatening to my male peers. In a patriarchal society and church, I was to leave the intellectual stuff to the menfolk, so I toned it down and lost some of my curiosity. It came back. I have pages and pages of unanswerable questions in a spiritual journal, questions that I’ve been told have “no bearing on my salvation,” which again is dismissive of my curiosity and my drive to understand. I keep asking and seeking.
How has this affected my religiosity? I have learned to look elsewhere for answers and to recognize truth wherever I may find it. I’m also shedding much of what I learned in earlier years, as I’ve discovered it doesn’t hold up.
P.S. I got rid of the encyclopedias with the advent of the Internet. They were fun to peruse as a child. They also served as playing blocks and stepping stones much to my parents’ dismay.
Once I finished grad school for the 2nd time (at age 37) I found myself with more time to think about religion. 15 years later I can give you quite the reading list which I’m sure is similar to my fellow commenters here,
It also helps that professionally I basically have a job where I have to evaluate truth claims.
Nearing the age of 52 I want to start a rock band called Lazy Learners and the Lax Disciples.
Great comment thread here. It’s comforting to know that I wasn’t the only “weird” kid who read encyclopedias and atlases for fun! To this day my recreational reading preferences gravitate to non-fiction over fiction.
My dad was a prolific bibliophile with a wide range of interests, despite being a college dropout with a modest income. He left behind an impressive personal library when he passed away a few years ago. I freely plundered from it at my mom’s insistence, as she wanted to reclaim the space taken up by all of his books. He had a habit of highlighting or underlining meaningful passages, and writing notes in the margins in every book he read. Its fun to run across these notes as I read, and get a little insight into what the book might have meant to him. Especially because he was a very private person during his life and he and I didn’t get to have such conversations then. But one lesson he taught me that always stuck: if you ever have to go someplace where it is likely you will have to wait for any length of time (doctor’s office, DMV, car repair, airport, etc.) always bring a book to read, to ensure the time you are waiting is not time wasted. To this day I can’t picture my dad without his reading glasses on.
Naturally, my dad passed his insatiable curiosity on to me, which has been important in shaping my educational, spiritual and career paths. My dad, who converted as a young adult, was active in the Church, but wasn’t a super orthodox TBM either. But to him the Gospel made sense logically and intellectually; his testimony wasn’t based on “feelings” at all (I have never once seen him shed tears while bearing testimony. Imagine Spock bearing testimony on Fast Sunday–that was my dad.). I feel like there isn’t space for that kind of expression of belief in the Church today, which is stifling and oppressive. This is one of the many reasons that are turning me off to the Church these days.
Richard G Scott was a nuclear engineer who worked closely with Admiral Rickover on the first US Navy nuclear submarines. I usually liked his approach to things. He taught that you should write things down so you’ll remember them, and you should love your wife, and you should be nice to people. He wasn’t much into carefully developed doctrine.
Interesting that four of the commenters read encyclopedias for fun like I did. I never knew anybody else that did that. So could there be a correlation between the curiosity that drove one to read them, and the fact that you are readers of a nuanced Mormon blog and not LDS Living?
Pontius, Scott was the one that said in GC that sometime the victims of abuse will share in the blame and may need to repent.
“Most often, the victim is innocent because of being disabled by fear or the power or authority of the offender. At some point in time, however, the Lord may prompt a victim to recognize a degree of responsibility for abuse. Your priesthood leader will help assess your responsibility so that, if needed, it can be addressed. Otherwise the seeds of guilt will remain and sprout into bitter fruit.”
^ Yes, I’m aware of that. I didn’t mention that as one of the things he taught that I liked (it’s not). My main purpose was to answer the question “have any of the apostles been engineers?”
For me, the secret sauce is traveling. I’m obsessive about it. I travel with family, friends, locals, and by myself. Since I’m not particularly big on sightseeing, I’ve found that installing school playgrounds is a good way to gain entry into other cultures. We like to install playgrounds in very remote communities around the globe. Nothing fancy, but the kids love them, and hopefully the playgrounds encourage kids to attend school.
My traveling obsession started on my mission. I couldn’t tract 10 hrs a day, 6 days a week and stay sane. I also read a lot. Mainly about existentialism and history. These obsessions helped keep me semi sane.
Now that I’m retired, I pretty much free to travel anytime. And I love it. So do most of my relatives and others. Life is good.
Roger, my job has required me to travel the world, and I’m a Million Miler on United. I don’t plan on stopping when I retire. I’ll be going back to see the rest of the countries I’ve visited. We also plan to stay for extended times, like two months in London, then the next year two month in Rome.
B2, I do most of my travel in developing countries: Uganda, Ethiopia, and Peru. The locals are nice enough to put up with me.
The commonwealth games have just finished.
I thought you might enjoy a couple of the adds I enjoyed.
I’ve observed what seems to be the secret sauce for some devout Mormons who see their children making decisions that don’t fit in with their hopes and expectations: doubling down on righteousness and exact obedience.
It seems they’re often genuinely afraid for their children’s future (eternity is a loooong time), and are unable to recognize the damage that may result from that approach.
Sometimes tying their inheritance to approved behaviors is used, as well.
Bishop Bill, Count me as another childhood reader of encyclopedias. I am jealous , however, that you had World Book. My family acquired during the fifties the Funk and Wagnell set that they bought for not much from the A&P grocery store. One could only obtain them one alphabet letter at a time, and I would anxiously await the next volume when it came out. It served me well enough through my elementary school years, but it wasn’t World Book or Britannica. I have always been a person to ask questions about anything, sometimes to the annoyance of others. You are correct! Learning something, creating something, or seeing something new is the sauce of old age.
For me the childhood encyclopedia reading carried over to college: I would study on random floors and locations of the library, and when I wanted a break I would browse the nearest shelf for an interesting chapter. It was a rewarding practice.
There was an obituary in Physics Today several years ago, with a line that stuck in my head, attributed to the deceased. From memory, “There are two kinds of physicists: those who as boys had trouble with their crystal radio kits, and those who had trouble with their God.” In the context this was given, the latter were being praised by the comparison. For that person, curiosity was not all the same, and he valued some forms of it more highly than others.