Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Towards Mormopagitica

I've had a running internal/external debate in my head for the past ten... no make that fifteen years on the worth of wickedness observed. On the one hand, I think of the often graphic horrors opened in visions by the Lord to His prophets; if God saw fit to put wickedness on display for Isaiah, John the Revelator, there must be some value derived from it, right? And ancient american prophets seemed to view the records of the Gadianton robbers to be important to their education, right? But on the other hand, I argue that God and his anointed were the gate-keepers in both instances; maybe only He and the prophets who share His secrets are physicians fit to prescribe such useful drugs. Then again, don't we believe in an egalitarian God who upbraids not when any man seeks knowledge in faith?
"To both these objections one answer will serve, out of the grounds already laid, that to all men such books are not temptations, nor vanities; but useful drugs."
And so I've gone round and round. I suppose I should sit down to read and write and pray about it. But I have little confidence, at present, in settling the question by an appeal to King James, Mormon, or Milton. Rather, when stirred by Areopagitica and Paradise Lost, I find myself thinking about the official narrative of LDS history. Happily, it seems we are moving towards the free market of thought advocated so well by Milton in Areopagitica. I suppose this change in policy--where we find the Joseph Smith papers published unedited, and where CES teachers are being instructed to address uncomfortable facts rather than merely avoiding them, and where Pres. Uchtdorff and others frankly acknowledge the reality that LDS leaders have sometimes acted and spoken out of harmony with eternal truth--has been a necessary fruit of the internet: a digital tree whose broad boughs put the knowledge of good and evil at the fingertips of millions.

So where does this all essay? Toward confidence, calmed by faith. The bittersweet fruits of good and evil knowledge have been tasted in other worlds, including Milton's. It's natural to wish for cultural-narrative control, but can we become saints, individually or collectively, without confessing our fathers' transgressions?


  1. This sounds fascinating. Are you going to choose one or two quotes from Paradise Lost and Areopagitica and critically analyze them first, and then move on to discuss how that works for the LDS people, or are you going to weave the LDS stuff all through the paper with the Areopagitica and Paradise Lost quotes?

  2. This IS a really interesting topic. We can't really expect to know how to get anywhere if we don't know where we've been or where we are. I guess my answer to your final question, though, is "Maybe so, yeah." For me, it comes down to a thought that I came across just after I got home from my mission: the faults we need to work on aren't the ones we recognize in our grandparents' or our parents' generations. They're the ones we don't recognize in our own generation and in ourselves. I think it's important to understand how society has predisposed us to think and act in one way or another, but I think there's a lot to be learned from non-disclosure as well. If I remember correctly, the Gadianton robbers or some other group in the Book of Mormon learned the old ways from records that were kept, so it's a tough balance...

  3. I think one of the keys to this idea is the concept of Advocacy vs Representation. Who is showing us this wickedness or evil or whatever and for what purpose? To follow up with Greg although some of the works of the Gadianton robbers were written of, Alma commanded his son Helaman to not write their oats and secret works (Alma 37:27-29). Like you mentioned too, individualized censorship based on situation is a important aspect of it. Think of all the things Bishops have to hear about and sit through. Necessity of knowledge based on circumstance and such. So much to talk about!

  4. Looking forward to reading the full paper. I think the topic of the role of "gate-keepers" of knowledge is a fascinating one. Where did Milton see gate-keepers as fitting in? Is there a place for gate-keepers, or do they just result in more damage (as Rafael arguably did with Adam and Eve)? That's a lot to cover in just 3-4 pages even without connecting it to modern LDS times, but I look forward to seeing what you do with it. Good luck!