When Professor Peterson inquired if I would share my testimony, I confess that the answer came swiftly: Yes! Upon reflection on the contrast between how slow I am in getting to the pulpit and my swift yes, though, I realized that my pride was once again at work to taint the good that I would do. The thought of “Mormon Scholar” had somehow tickled my vanity, and was the lure that attracted my agency to choose. So that had to be repented of, delaying my sharing my testimony, knowing that pride occasioned my repentance, out of respect for the sacred nature of witness.
During my Ph.D. graduation ceremony at Yale, capping (literally) ten years of effort in its Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, I realized my secret shame—I had the meaningless guilt of not being in the herd, keeping this activity secret: As a teenager, in my free time, I used every free minute in reading every single LDS book I could find. My Yale degree was in Religious Studies, and shockingly, I was an active Mormon (the department had never before knowingly enrolled a Mormon). At the graduation, for some reason, I was remembering my secret habit, and how it all made sense. And now it is secret no more!
After finishing Elder McConkie’s New Testament commentary at fifteen, I started reading a book called Jesus the Christ. It’s an 804-page book, and is subtitled A Study of the Messiah and His Mission according to Holy Scripture both Ancient and Modern.
The author, James E. Talmage, was of the opinion (these quotations are from his book The Articles of Faith), that theology (which he differentiated from religion as “theory is differentiated from practice”) could not be over-estimated as to its importance in directing how our efforts are applied during “the short span of our mortal existence.” This view of theology had an effect on me and is one reason for my studying religion at Princeton for my A.B., and for my receiving an M.A. in Religion from Columbia and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies at Yale. Written by a Mormon Apostle in 1915, Jesus the Christ states in its Preface that the book was “approved by the First Presidency (of President Heber J. Grant, my Great-Grandfather) and the Council of the Twelve.”
I’m a night person; my brain is at its peak late in the evening. And so, late night after late night in 1970, I read. Weeks became months until, at about the final third of the book, I distinctly recall setting it down. The Holy Spirit at that moment revealed to me certain knowledge that Jesus is my Savior. I was not praying for that testimony. As the wind listeth, the Spirit was there. I was calm. This experience of the Holy Spirit was sui generis, and was not an emotional experience.
The witness of the Spirit that night has given me certain knowledge of faith. It has served to keep my head above the waves when I was ten thousand leagues at sea without any life preserver. Those times in my life when all has not only seemed lost but, actually, really, was lost. Sometimes the only thought I could pull myself together to even think was that Jesus is my Savior.
I am also thankful for the Holy Ghost. My most recent experience of the gift of the Holy Ghost (I’m using both “Spirit” and “Ghost” to refer to the same thing) was just last Saturday. I was, of all things, texting a friend I had met in graduate school who went on to become a Professor at Yale. My friend had just published a book with Cambridge in which he had examined Christian theologies of creation and found them wanting in reverence for animals, in particular, and for Mother Nature, in general. Historically the Christian theology of creation has been disrespectful of nature, exploitive of the animal kingdom. In response, I was explaining Joseph Smith’s view that animals would obtain salvation, and sending him the following text from Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, with which I conclude my response to Brother Peterson, when—without expecting at all the distinctly recognizable enjoyment of the Spirit—I became conscious of the presence of the Holy Ghost:
“Just FYI and BTW, Smith believed that the world is an embodied spirit, capable of and in fact now in pain, but that Mother Earth will receive her paradisiacal glory eventually.
“He also was, as I seem to recall you know, convinced of the salvation of animals, preaching (again, this stuff now has to be dug out from the stacks in the basement of the library, in this the present age of the colonial captivity of Mormonism) about ‘what there was in heaven.’
“The Prophet Joseph speaks of: ‘Beings of a thousand forms that have been saved from ten thousand times ten thousand earths like this—strange beasts of which we have no conception. . . . God glorified himself by saving all that his hands had made, whether beasts, fowls, fishes or men; and He will glorify Himself with them. Says one, I cannot believe in the salvation of beasts.’ Joseph replies by referring to the language abilities of the four beasts giving glory to God in the book of Revelation, and God understanding them. Joseph adds, ‘we are not told where they came from and I do not know . . . . But they were four of the most noble animals that had filled the measure of their creation, and had been saved from other worlds: they were like angels in their sphere.’”
Prior to returning to academia, Ashby D. Boyle II was an entrepreneur and attorney, beginning his career at the Washington, D.C. office of Sullivan & Cromwell. He is Acting President at George Wythe University, after previously working as a research fellow at Yale University, working on two books. One is on the theological foundations of the Book of Mormon and the other is an update of his Yale dissertation on the religious jurisprudence of the US Supreme Court.
Dr. Boyle graduated with Honors from Princeton University in 1980, interrupting his time at Princeton to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Madrid, Spain. Upon returning to the university, he was awarded the Aaron Austin Godfrey Memorial Prize, given annually at Princeton University to an undergraduate of “exceptional potential,” to fund research in Spain on that country’s transformation from a fascist dictatorship to a constitutional form of government.
He went on to receive M.A. and J.D. degrees from Columbia University (where he was a Charles Evans Hughes Fellow, a teaching fellow in property law, and a member of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review), as well as an M.Phil in criminology from Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He also earned M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University, where he taught ethics in Yale’s Department of Religious Studies and its Divinity School prior to attending Columbia Law School. He served as a law clerk to the fifteenth Chief Justice of the United States, the Hon. Warren E. Burger, during October Term 1990. He also served as an aide to U.S, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, in addition to service at the White House during the administration of President Gerald R. Ford (after the fall of Saigon in Vietnam) as a presidential appointee to The President’s Advisory Committee on Refugees, and then worked as an attorney in the District of Columbia area until he returned to Salt Lake City to practice law in Utah.
Dr. Boyle was recognized by the New York City Bar Association in 2004 for his pro bono work, which has included such activities as the National Chairman of the March of Dimes Youth Program, the current CEO of the American Religious Liberties Union, and membership on the Alumni Schools Committee for Yale University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
Posted October 2010
Updated July 2013