There are 10 thoughts on “Mormonism and Intellectual Freedom”.

  1. The title of this essay is much more intriguing than the content. Why spend so much time on policy rather than principle? There is so much missing from this post. Content for the sake of content.

    • (The language in this comment is vague and generic enough that I suspect it to be robot-generated spam. But since it may well be a real comment from a real person, I’ll go ahead and respond.)

      Brad, can you tell me a little more about what you feel is lacking in my essay? My intention was to focus much more on issues of principle than of policy, so I’m intrigued and a bit concerned that you see me doing the opposite. What issue(s) of principle do you see me ignoring, or giving insufficient attention?

  2. Rick: Extremely well written. As I began reading your article, but before I got to the meat of it, I thought this:

    “(1) What IS doctrinal is a much smaller subset of LDS culture/belief than many think.
    (2) So long as we don’t try (a la Kate Kelly and women holding priesthood office) to elevate something to the level of doctrine that is not, we are free to believe, research, and share anything we’d like.”

    It sounds as though we agree. Intellectualism is alive and well in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

  3. Dear Dr. Rick,
    This was a very useful article to me. The tone seems quite even handed. I forwarded it to a new friend who liked it much less, but I think he is struggling with many things.

    You may think it odd for me to include this quotation from Friedrich Hayek here, but I think it explains why many fringe members as well as many who have, but don’t recognize their own arrogance of ignorance struggle with the existence and claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    “The more men know, the smaller the share of all that knowledge becomes that any one mind can absorb. p.26

    All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest.Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. p.30
    (Constitution of Liberty, Chapter 2) (1959), Friedrich A. Hayek, Winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, 1974

    I have trouble remembering that I know very little. I think many others may also so struggle with this truth. This quotation from Hayek has helped me remember, but I think deep inside of me, though I know it is true, I sometimes still resent this truth.


  4. Great article Rick. Said things better than I could have said them, and I forwarded it to reply to those asking me specifically what I thought about the recent excommunications.
    Thanks again.

  5. Is your friend real or just another apologist straw man? Why was it necessary to include “him” in the first place? It seems you could have made your points without mentioning that your “friend” wants to experiment with sin.

    • Far from being a “straw man,” Rick Anderson’s friend is not at all odd in modern times. This is a worldwide phenomenon, and many non-Mormons have abandoned traditional ethical and moral strictures for the same reasons (especially in Europe). I have met a number of such people both in and out of the LDS Church.

      Anderson’s description and diagnosis of “cognitive dissonance” is correct, and constitutes the major reason why those who leave Mormonism cannot leave it alone. The fact that better educated Mormons tend to be stronger believers just doesn’t square with the naive preconceptions of apostates. See, or example, “Mormons in America: Certain in their Beliefs, Uncertain of their Place in Society,” The Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life (Jan 12, 2012), online at ; Gerald Stott, “Effects of College Education on the Religious Involvement of Latter-day Saints,” BYU Studies 24/1 (1984):43-52; Stan L. Albrecht and Tim B. Heaton, “Secularization, Higher Education, and Religiosity,” Review of Religious Research 26/1, Special Issue Co-Sponsored by the Society for the Sociological Study of Mormon Life and the Family and Demographic Institute of Brigham Young University (September 1984): 437-458.

      Indeed, a 1990 study showed that 55% of Mormons and 48% of Roman Catholics have attended college, while larger family size among Mormons does not have the usual effect of reducing educational levels – the opposite is true (Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History [Princeton Univ. Press, 1996], 42-44, cited by Barry Bickmore in FARMS Review of Books, 13/2 [2001]: nn. 46, 107).

    • To the best of my ability to determine, my friend is indeed a real person, and he (or someone claiming to be him) really did send me the message I described. I included a brief account of that message because, as I explained, it was its invocation of “intellectual freedom” that led to the thoughts that, in turn, resulted in this essay.

  6. “The Church teaches very specific things about, for example, . . what constitutes proper order in meetings, and how . . . one should pray” (164).

    While I agree with much of what you say, I would like to note first that some of your comments are in tension with the more laissez faire approach taken by John Sorenson’s Interpeter Blog comments on the nature of the Church (June 6, 2014), i.e., as more culture & time-bound and malleable than you seem to suggest. Thus, while it is true that “the Church is undeniably hierarchical” (163), it is at the same time very decentralized and horizontal. It isn’t only the high value placed on family, so that the Church plays second fiddle to it, but that Betty J. Stevenson’s account of decades of life in her Oakland, California, branch and ward suggest legalism is less important than you suggest.

    Which leads me to the second consideration: Correlation. While I am always cautious to teach what I consider true doctrine in a Church setting (what else would I teach?), I am always aware that there are those who don’t necessarily share my views (and consider themselves “orthodox”), and I never consider what the demands of Correlation might be. Having been given complete freedom to choose my subject and the way I decide to present it, I have never been called to account for any of it. And this applies as well to my publications (in or out of the Church). In other words, I am unaware of any restrictions. Instead, I am only aware of Correlation as an effort to provide a unified and dependable array of Church published manuals and articles which can aid in teaching specific classes – while attempting to have those classes mesh with all the other classes simultaneously taught in the Church. A worthy effort.

    As for “boundary maintenance” (163), I am aware of many who publish heterodox views without being called to account for it. The late Sterling McMurrin certainly the most prominent. As for infamous examples of those who have been unchurched for it, Correlation has not to my knowledge been involved in any way.

    • Hi, Robert —

      Thanks for your comment. I certainly agree that while the Church reserves the right to correlate what is taught in its various official settings, it asserts that right in different degrees, in different places, at different times. That’s to be expected, I think, given that the needs of the members, the circumstances in which the Church is working, and the concerns of the leadership are going to vary over time and from place to place. Like you, I have never experienced any pressure from leaders to change anything that I teach in church or write. I think it’s also safe to say, however, that in the past there have been many who have felt correlative pressure more directly and (in their view) abrasively, and have seen the Church’s concern for doctrinal boundary-maintenance as restrictive of their intellectual freedom. As I explain in this essay, I think that view represents simplistic thinking and a failure to recognize some important and appropriate functions of the Church.

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