Once a young fellow got into it with George Mitton and me at the end of a Bushman summer seminar in which he was presumably being trained how to do LDS history. He explained that he hated apologists because they start with the answers. I suppose he thinks that one can start an historical inquiry just looking at what he considers the facts and, if and only if one discounts the historical grounds and contents of faith, can one then let them tell their story. This is absolute rubbish. Anyone who writes anything has to have something he/she is defending, and that something will not have somehow appeared out of nowhere when he/she begins to type or scribble. We always necessarily begin with a pre-understanding, and this will necessarily be driven by our deepest desires, and hence also express our hopes, longings, and passions. Of course we modify these as we move along. Even or especially the secularized apologist for unfaith must work in this manner.
From within the horizon of faith in God one sees within one’s own soul changes that were unanticipated. This is, I must report, my own experience. This kind of prompting can and should yield signs of the workings of the Holy Spirit in guiding and warning and correcting us. It is our deeds, and not merely our words that count with God. From within the horizon of faith, something quite different seems to drive those who resist the quiet workings of the Holy Spirit in guiding and instructing us. Hence one who begins without even allowing the possible truth of that which forms the content of faith (and also its grounds) cannot possibly find faith and faithfulness prospering even or especially in what they write.
And even a fool should recognize that what one gets in graduate school, especially in the humanities (and so-called social science) is a heavy and constant does of enlightenment and post-enlightenment skepticism about anything even remotely resembling prophetic truth claims and also the possibility of divine special revelations. The idea that a “scholar” must necessarily end up with “angels don’t bring books” or “dead bodies do not come back to life” will end up reading both the Book of Mormon and the Bible quite differently than those who really want both to simply be true. Put another way, both unfaith and faith are choices made at least in part on moral grounds–on what we desire and hope to or even have become–and not on some proofs that settle matters.
The crisis of faith that is now being celebrated and “a safe space” delineated where unbelievers can unload on the cramping and confining Mormon culture is an exemplar of having bought uncritically into a secular ideology perhaps even without fully realizing it. And shoving the Church–meaning the Brethren–into tolerating and perhaps even privileging, if not entirely adopting a secular worldview, or threatening to leave the community of Saints is from my perspective simply disgusting.
We cannot be morally serious if we think that the so-called “Mormon culture” is what is important, and not our relationship with God. Faith is in God. Faith disappears when our concern is fostering a community in which denial and doubt are the reigning dogmas. Cultural Mormonism often offers a face in which the point is to get the “church culture” adjusted to fit some current fads and fashions.
I am not, however, celebrating Mormon culture. I know that meetings are sometimes dull and the lessons and sermons are boring. So what? When I preach or teach I am confident that some are bored. I go to meetings on Sunday because I desire to renew my covenants and thereby receive mercy, and also seek genuine fellowship with the Saints. Being a Saint, or striving to be sanctified, is not merely going to meetings on Sunday. It is for me an expression of how I hope things really are, and hence how I want to strive to endure my probation, and to pass the final examination. This depends, I am certain, not on whether the lessons are as good as I imagine I could teach or would desire to encounter, or that the right person is Bishop, or any of that sort of thing. Instead, being a Holy One (or Saint) depends on my deeds–that is, covenant love backing up my words, and hence on my faith and faithfulness. I see something like this all over our scriptures, though not necessarily in portions of the Old Testament, as I read as primarily the grim stories of what goes wrong when something other than love and mercy define and determine the community.
I cannot imagine a more terrible fate than being ruled by someone who wants power or someone whose business is selling some ideology. It is about these sorts of things that we ought to nurture our doubt, while striving to allow the Holy Spirit to grow the tree of life.