Tuesday, March 15, 2005


It seems like the big criticism of religion today involves the loss in potential that comes from following a pre-determined path. The set agenda of religion (or any other established instituion) leaves little wiggle room for differences. It doesn't facillitate different rates of progression and different interests. It creates, as Issues in Mormon Doctrine would say, shepherds and hirelings. In short, institutions narturally lead to a dichotomy of expectations. On one hand they will indicate what should be done but can't by their very nature let everything become an exception. Some open ones will acknoweldge that while the ideas espoused may be universally beneficial, because of the infinite randomness of life, they may not be universally applicable.

I wonder if the current disdain for conformity doesn't cause us to lose sight of the fact that institutions arise because of the needs of people. Thus individualism may need as many institutions to support it as any other tendency. The difference only lies in the type of institutions that are wanted. I would hazard a guess that for strong individualism there needs to be an equally strong institutions around to prevent the natural friction and opression that this causes. So perhaps all that people can really hope for is the euphoric lull that occurs in regime change before natural consequences catch up.

(If changes happen very frequently does that mean you can always out run natural consequences? I would hazard a guess that many theories of social change would say, yes. Religious theology seems to say, no. Long term stability is the only solution.)

Sunday, March 13, 2005

One Idea, Unpacked, Exemplified, Explored

In 12 Answers from Phillip Barlow Dr. Barlow had a nice take on teaching.

I was sorry to see that one reader/participant in Times&Seasons mistakenly (in my view) posited Lowell Bennion’s writings as overrated. Bennion’s profound mind tended to transcend complexity to achieve simplicity (as opposed to being simplistic). His think books offered an entire generation of (especially college-age) Saints an avenue to authentic religion and spirituality when their alternatives seemed either a mindless faith or a departure from the church. Many of these thin books—such as The Things That Matter Most, I Believe, The Unknown Testament, The Book of Mormon—a Guide for Christian Living—would themselves be superior manuals for study in our classes. (And the idea is not preposterous; Bennion was the most prolific author of Church manuals from the 1930s through the 1960s.) These are not cutting works of scholarship; they are simple and profound meditations, summaries, and questions that provide a path for a more fruitful public LDS pursuit of God and good.
Bennion was also a simple (again, not simplistic) teacher. I used to drive from Bountiful to Salt Lake City once a month to attend his Sunday School class. His idea of a good Sunday School or Institute lesson was “one idea, unpacked, exemplified, explored.” He thus abhorred the tendency of later, correlated manuals whose thrust was to move serially through the scriptures, several chapters at a time.

While this is the type of teaching I prefer, I know it is aiming rather high. Many people have a very hard time accomplishing the ground work required for this type of thinking. Relatively few people can determine the underlying ideas in a theme. Pulling in divergent viewpoints is even harder. Being familiar with a wide range of resources and information presents yet another hurdling block. Interpreting all these steps from multiple perspectives is yet another hurdle. Showing where each idea may or may not apply creates yet a further level of difficulty. Expecting the average person to accomplish all of these pre-requisite steps, is to my mind aiming high. Yes it would be great. However, I think many of us too often assume that others are able to think the same way we do. After all, the only thing one really needs for this style of teaching is some creative thinking skills and some limited resources to assist in determining a few extra perspectives. From there you can just reason out the rest, coming up with a number of standard probes into the subject. However, I know teaching high school I have to be very careful not to assume that students pice ideas together the way I do.

The application of creative thinking doesn't come easy for many people. Fewer people still have the courage to follow it through, especially in a public forum. So, it is not that I don't enjoy this style of teaching, I think I just realize that not every ward will have very many people who are capable of doing what seems so easy for others to see.