If there is one thing I have learned on my journey through this mortal probation, it is this: while it’s impossible to study secular knowledge too much, it is all too possible–and far too easy–to neglect the study of sacred knowledge in the process. The Doctrine and Covenants counsels us (in two separate places, no less) to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (88:118, 109:7). This is not an “either/or” option; to be spiritually well-rounded we must seek enlightenment through our minds and our hearts. “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation . . .” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3). In other words, our ability to receive revelation is dependent upon both reason and faith, working together.
Regrettably, there are some in the Church who seem to be afraid of the intellect. They would eschew the “philosophies of men” completely, as if they were inextricably antithetical to the revelations of God. I find this anti-intellectual strain in the Church and anywhere else both lamentable and dangerous. Isn’t this the great lesson that was learned by Oliver Cowdery, when he tried his hand at translation? “Behold, ye have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it to you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore you shall feel that it is right” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-8, emphasis added).
But I am even more concerned by so-called “Intellectuals” in the Church (anyone who thinks of himself as such is probably not!), who seem to perceive the whisperings of the Spirit, the counsel of inspired leaders, and the scriptures themselves as somehow inferior to “objective, scientific reality.” As we learn in sacred places, truth is to be circumscribed into one great whole and truth is truth and should be eagerly sought, regardless of its apparent origin. To do that takes more than a modicum of humility, which is all too often sadly lacking among those of us blessed with a great deal of formal education.
Throughout my life, I have found great comfort in combining secular and religious study–in joining rational meditation with fervent prayer. Whenever I have neglected secular study I have become intellectually flabby; when I have neglected my study of the scriptures and meaningful prayer I have suffered spiritually. When I have combined the two, letting one approach to knowledge both challenge and support the other, I have been at my best.
To be sure, some of those challenges have been rather daunting. I’ll admit that my “faith shelf” has, at times, sagged a bit under the stress of many unresolved issues. And there are certainly questions for which I still do not possess completely satisfactory answers. But as time marches on, I have found that many of my issues have found resolution and I have faith that, sometime in the eternities before me, all will come together in a most satisfactory way. In the meantime, I try not to sweat the small stuff.
So, what is it, exactly, that I have come to believe through my own study and faith? Following are a few of my personal “articles of faith.”
- I believe that Joseph Smith was, indeed, a Prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price are all inspired texts. I do not worry about how these texts came about or even if every word within them is literally accurate. It’s the great teachings and principles therein that speak to and guide my soul. Nor do I concern myself with whether everything Joseph taught was true. (I am grateful that I am not faced with the great challenge of polygamy, for instance). But I am convinced he saw God the Father and God the Son and that the Holy Priesthood was restored through him. Based on that conviction, I am comfortable proclaiming that I know this is the true church of God on the earth today. At the same time, I am quick to acknowledge that we hardly have a monopoly on truth. With John Stuart Mill, I fervently believe that it is through the clash of competing ideologies that ultimate truth is discovered and appreciated.
- I believe in modern-day Prophets, who are charged with the responsibility to lead us in paths of righteousness. I do not believe for a moment that any of them are perfect, nor do I believe they always speak with authority. But I do know that, on the whole, following their counsel will bring all of us great happiness. One could do much worse than pay attention to them.
- I believe that I have the ultimate responsibility to make right choices and that any kind of “blind faith”–whether to an institution or to a particular individual–can (and has been in our history) very dangerous. At the same time, I know that leaning too much on my own understanding is unwise. Relying on the “arm of flesh”–especially one’s own–is fraught with jeapardy.
- I believe that my Heavenly Father will never let me down and that, to the extent I earnestly seek direction from Him, I shall receive it. At times I may see through the glass very darkly, but I know He helps me to see much better than I ever could on my own. Although one can all too easily “hear what one wants to hear” if one isn’t careful, I believe in personal revelation.
- I believe that through temple ordinances I can be sealed to my family through all eternity and that through those same ordinances all who have ever lived on the Earth will have an equal opportunity to return to God’s presence. (I choose not to obsess over the vestiges of Masonry that have found their way into the endowment ceremony.) As suggested in the preface to the Book of Mormon, “if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men, condemn not the things of God. . . .”
- I believe that I and all others are co-eternal with God and that while He was instrumental in helping us progress from one type of existence to the next (a sort of “spiritual evolution,” if you will), none of us can either be created or destroyed.
- I believe that agency is a fundamental necessity for all existence (which to me explains the real reason Satan and his third were cast out of heaven) and that it is absolute. While many exigencies may, and do, impinge on agency, we are–in the ultimate analysis–free to choose how we react to the vicissitudes of existence. And with Jean Paul Sartre, I believe that choice is unavoidable: even to choose not to choose is to choose.
- I believe that there has been only one Perfect Man to walk this earth and that it is only through the grace of God and the atonement of Jesus Christ that any of us can be “saved.”
- Finally, I believe in the very real possibility of being highly and delightfully surprised by many assumptions I and others have held dear once we get to “the other side.”
Roger Robin Ekins is a professor emeritus from Butte College in Oroville, California, where he served as dean of instruction, director of the honors program, and charter advisor of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, and taught courses in composition, creative writing, existentialism, and the history of ideas. Prior to the twenty-five years he spent at Butte College, he both taught and served in various administrative capacities at the Augusta campus of the University of Maine (seven years), Johnston College of the University of Redlands (two years), and Staten Island College, within the City University of New York (five years). Church callings include service as Bishop, several stints on the High Council, and what most people on this site would agree is the best calling in the Church: Gospel Doctrine teacher.
Ekins’s academic degrees include the Honors Bachelor of Arts in English (University of Utah), an M.A. in Creative Writing (U. of Utah), and a Ph.D. in Education through the Union Institute. His publications include Defending Zion: George Q. Cannon and the California Newspaper Wars of 1856-1857, which received the Best Documentary History Award from the Mormon History Association. Together with his wife, Helen Leonard Ekins, he is currently working on a trail guide titled The Flumes and Trails of Paradise, referring not to the more desirable section of the Spirit World, but to their home, in Paradise, California.
Posted March 2012