Many of us compartmentalize our lives in a way that would seem strange to scholars of past centuries. We talk about our religious lives and our academic lives as though they were two separate things, divided in a way that protects one from the effects of an error in the other, as a bulkhead on a ship may protect other compartments from being flooded by water. However, this modern separation of our academic and spiritual life is a very recent development. I believe that the division between spiritual and secular knowledge is a false distinction, and, as Richard Williams has pointed out, found nowhere in scripture.1
I believe the artificial division between the sacred and the secular has blinded us to the ways in which the apostasy has affected our academic lives. We frequently assume today that general knowledge always increases over time, but knowledge and understanding have not always progressed. Dallin H. Oaks, for example, said, “In fact, on some matters the general knowledge of mankind regresses as some important truths are distorted or ignored and eventually forgotten.”2 He was, in large part, referring to the Great Apostasy. Vital truths about the nature of God, our relationship with Him, and the reality of divine revelation were lost and forgotten during the centuries following Christ’s death.
But those lost truths did not only affect religious undertakings. Perhaps we could envision the collective body of human knowledge as an amoeba that was poisoned prior to splitting into two. Even though the two offspring are now considered separate, the poison still affects both. Thus, a cure can and should be applied to both (this metaphor fails, though, when we consider that there really is no division; we’ve just convinced ourselves that there is). If we believe certain ideas poisoned or distorted religious doctrine, we should consider the possibility that they have had, or would have, the same poisoning or distortive effect in academia. At a university devotional at Brigham Young University, Richard Williams explained,
Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Dallin H. Oaks have pointed out that a notable aspect of the Apostasy was the incorporation into the doctrine of the Church ideas and philosophies prevalent in that day, largely Greek in origin. … Since religion went significantly wrong in large part because of those ideas and presuppositions, we Latter-day Saints ought to be as wary of accepting them in our academic disciplines and social institutions as we are in our religion.1
On another occasion, in an address titled “Restoration and the ‘Turning of Things Upside Down’: What Is Required of an LDS Perspective,” Williams said:
We might well ask, … if while religionists went irrevocably wrong for fourteen hundred years, philosophers stayed on track and stayed right. Or, we might ask if scientists simply went on their way discovering truth, even thought the light of truth had gone out elsewhere. Are we to assume that only religion went wrong while science, philosophy, aesthetics, and moral theory went right (i.e. that only religious truth was compromised)?
… It follows, then, that whatever intellectual or artistic endeavor is based on those same philosophies and precepts [that informed the Great Apostasy], as well as the intellectual foundation on which they rest, must be as wrong as sectarian religion, and for precisely the same reasons. The Apostasy, I believe, occurred from top to bottom, infusing itself into every aspect of culture and every intellectual and aesthetic endeavor.3
On my other blog, I often compare the philosophies of the world with the restored doctrines of the gospel. One of the reasons I do this is because I have a firm conviction that many of the prevailing philosophies in academia differ from revealed truths in very important ways. Many of these philosophies have been poisoned, and some can even act as a poison by leading us away from revealed truth. What is the cure? The restored doctrines of the gospel, as revealed through living prophets.
Perhaps we sometimes underestimate the Lord’s promise to bring about “the restoration of all things” in the last days (D&C 27:6; 86:10). We expect that the forgotten truths he reveals will make clergymen surprised, uncomfortable, and sometimes unhappy; perhaps we should expect the same reactions among scientists, lawyers, and artists. Richard Williams referenced a scripture written by Isaiah, which reads: “Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as potter’s clay” (2 Nephi 27:27). He then explained,
From the perspective of the doctrines of the world, the precepts of men that pervade our culture, the prevailing ideas and perspectives that endow our culture with meaning, the restored gospel of Jesus Christ turns things upside down…
It is a very powerful metaphor. A turning of things upside down is not a mere course correction. It is no minor adjustment. Turning things upside down is not a process of refining. Certainly, turning things upside down requires more than just adding another dimension to the wisdom of the world. I submit that we must assume that “turning things upside down” does just that; it turns the wisdom of the world on its head….
Because the tentacles of the Apostasy reach into all of tradition, when the Restoration is brought to pass to set things right, that restoration turns upside down not just religious convention, but the whole of the Western intellectual tradition.3
I believe that most effective corrective to modern thought is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. However, a comparison between the philosophies of the world and the doctrines of gospel require more than just a cursory understanding of philosophy. For example, a casual observer might declare Carl Rogers’ concept of unconditional positive regard to be a perfect corollary between psychological thought and gospel truth. As I have pointed out in a previous post, however, this is a very dangerous comparison. An understanding of the way philosophy has progressed or regressed over the centuries can provide us a valuable context for understanding the far-reaching effects of the Great Apostasy.
Some may object that this point of view is very negative outlook. However, I don’t see it that way at all. I think it is very exciting, even hopeful, to claim that all the great ideas floating around in the world may be counterfeits of better ideas. If any of our favorite philosophies turn out to be informed by apostate ideas, we can be sure that the real thing is even better.
1. Richard Williams, “Faith, Reason, Knowledge, and Truth,” Brigham Young University devotional address, 2000.
2. Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign, May 1995, 84-87.
3. Richard Williams, “Restoration and the ‘Turning of Things Upside Down’: What Is Required of an LDS Perspective,” 1998.
Filed under: Mormon Doctrine, Philosophy, Science | Tagged: apostasy, Carl Rogers, compartmentalization, Dallin H. Oaks, Great Apostasy, knowledge, Neil A. Maxwell, Philosophy, potter's clay, progression, Restoration, Restoration of All Things, Restored Gospel, Richard Williams, sacred, Science, Scripture, secular, truth, turning of things upside down, unconditional positive regard |