Secular Learning and ‘Correlation’

Aaron R. aka Ricobooks, church, Culture, diversity, education, Mormon, spirituality 25 Comments

In a 1926 Improvement Era the M.I.A. reading course included four books: ‘The Book of Mormon, 50c; by mail, 60c. Prophecies of Joseph Smith and Their Fulfilment, by Nephi L. Morris, $1.50; by mail, $1.50. Hugh Wynne, a novel, by S. Weir Mitchell, $1.25; by mail, $1.35. Wild Life in the Rockies, Enos A. Mills, $2.50; by mail, $2.60.’ (Priesthood Quorums, Improvement Era, 1926, Vol. Xxix. July, 1926 No. 9 .)

The ‘Joint Advance Senior Class’ had two manuals to choose from ‘1. Heroes of Science, by Dr. F. S. Harris and N. I. Butt. 2. Rational Theology, by Dr. John A. Widtsoe.’ (Priesthood Quorums, Improvement Era, 1926, Vol. Xxix. July, 1926 No. 9 .) 

Although, I was aware that the Church used other literature in their Auxiliaries I was not aware that they used a quite wide selection of literature.  Although my initial reaction to these efforts was positive, I am not convinced that this would be a good thing today.

My positive reaction centered around the possibilities of a Church that encouraged its members to fulfill the admonition in D&C 88 to become educated.  However, on reflection I began to wonder whether I needed to be told what books to read, or what interests to have.  The Church has explicitly directed its members to try and learn all we can and this seems sufficient.

Perhaps the Church’s growing assimilation (both socially and economically) has also made it less-important to direct and supply its members with other reading materials.  Further is it possible that the Church’s correlation programmes, in trying to focus more directly on ‘core’ gospel principles, has decided to become less pro-active in directing the secular learning of the members of the Church.  Although some have lamented correlation as a form of dumbing-down, I, for one, am grateful for this change. 

In contrast, I wonder whether the Church could provide low cost literature for Saints in other parts of the world where access to books is something of a luxury, so although I feel that this is not something that I would benefit from, I sense that it might be positive for some other areas.  In addition, the Elders Quorum President in our ward has recently asked that once a month someone share something that has inspired them that is not specifically LDS; a piece of poetry, art or music.  Although I think there is something to be said for bringing in outside influences to our Sunday classes, I am not sure whether I want that to be too tightly controlled.

What are your thoughts about whether the Church should offer such materials to the Saints?

Comments 25

  1. I don’t see that recommending a few secular books would be telling members “what books to read or what interests to have.” Instead it might function as permission for active LDS to look outside the Deseret Book box. I’ve been frustrated with my RS book group because so few sisters are comfortable with reading a book not purchased at DB. Listing a few secular titles for members to try might stimulate them to go beyond the list and make discoveries of their own.

  2. I used to joke that my religion was the NY Times Book Review, which I worshipped every Sunday and which told me what to read and (ergo) what to think. Since then, I take a more charitable view towards Deseret Book, and not just because they sell my brother’s music. It’s because it’s a one-stop-shop for LDS titles in which I am interested which I can’t find elsewhere.I acknowledge it’s limitations, but it’s still useful.

  3. How do you do a secular curiculum in a worldwide Church? I think the RS faced this issue in the 60s and 70s when “Literature” later “Cultural Refinement” was studying the icons of the Western Intellectual Tradition for years on end. Later they tried doing “countries” but it was pretty watered down. Also, I think it was in the 60s they spent a whole year studying the US Consititution. That must have seemed a bit odd to sisters in Canada or England, to say nothing of Germany, Japan, etc. etc.

    So whose secular sources do you use in an international Church? I think for the last twenty years or so, the Church has focused on what they so best–preach the gospel and we are free to study whatever else catches our fancy and celebrate our own cultures, no matter where we are in the world.

    I think it is also a stroke of genius to distribute everywhere, the Priesthood/RS manuels each year at no charge. To some extent all LDS everywhere have the same “basic library” and are therefore “on the same page.” A shared cultural canon seems necessary for any culture, including the emerging culture of Zion.

  4. Growing up in Kentucky, I didn’t have much experience with Deseret Book, but when me and my wife went to the one in Salt Lake, and saw Newt Gingrich’s book in there, I just had to laugh. I just can’t take that seriously.

  5. I don’t see any issues with any kind of “suggested reading” list as it is only a suggestion. I agree w/others that our worldwide approach today would make such “suggestions” more problematic.I don’t know about you but after working 50 hours/week, dealing w/my calling, having a realtionship w/my wife and children, friendshipping those who haven’t yet joined the Church, going to the temple, writing in my journal, taking care of my home garden & food storage, time for daily prayer & scripture reading, that I have much time for ‘secular’ reading anyway.

  6. #1 – Although, I agree with your sentiment I am skeptical as to whether the people you mention would have the inclination to take such implicit endorsement as anything less than divine. Moreover, I wonder whether, the emphasis on Mormon writers in the Improvement Era would lead to a similar thing today, namely those in DB. Perhaps that would reinforce the problem that you see.

    #2 – I have to agree with you about DB. I have some of its publications and I feel that my mini-library is the richer for it. Although, I have noticed that the longer I receive the magazine the less interested I am in buying.

    #3 – Thank you Majorie, I did not know the RS tried that late to include such materials. I think it would be possible, like they do now for local areas to pick one lesson a month from whatever they feel. This could include picking materials from local sources that would be useful to the people in that area. In could even be decided by groups of local leaders for an area so as not to have the GA bias, which seems to be still predominantly white-Americans.

    #4 – I have only been in one DB in my life and because I am from England I have no idea who newt gingrich is sorry?

    #5 – I have the luxury of being a student, so although busy with stuff, I still have the opportunity to read a little. Also, incorporating it into the lesson structure would provide time to study about such things even if they are not read widely. It was after studying something that i often went and bought the book and read it properly.

  7. #4. Hmm, he’s a politician. Very conservative… vocal opponent especially of Bill Clinton back in the ’90s. Not LDS. Not sure why one of his books was in DB except that in general LDS people are are really politically conservative. I am somewhat conservative but I was disappointed that such a partisan book sat across the aisle from New Testament study manuals.

  8. Back to the topic of the OP, I’ve always thought that one main way the Church encourages reading secular books is by having the 1st Presidency and 12 apostles quote from secular books in their addresses. Huston at Gently Hewn Stone put together a great post on Pres. Hinckley’s “Standing for Something”
    [admin link please…. which shows that at least 50% of the references are poems, quotes from classic books, current event clippings, and not simply religious/scriptural stuff.

    From David O. McKay forward, I’ve found the top-level leaders(above 70s)are remarkably well-read.

    On the Deseret Book sidenote, I don’t think they’re a reliable yardstick for “approved material” at all. When the Twilight series (written by a Mormon) was yanked from the shelves, my friend just smiled and said “I see some executive finally must have read it.” I suspect the same thing’s true for the Gingrich book and others like it.

  9. It is a little different, IMO, for the church to allow people to read whatever benefits them, and for the church to recommend or provide a reading material. Whenever the church endorses something, then the teachings of that book are taken as doctrine by members, which is different then just reading a classic novel to glean literary value and educate the mind. So the church is a little hand-cuffed on what they can recommend.

    From the book, David O McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, there were accounts of books even written by 12 apostles that were problematic for the church to endorse. Mormon Doctrine was problematic. They aren’t problematic because there is nothing worthy in those books to an individual, but problematic if the church approves it that doctrine becomes established by sources other than the proper key holding authorities.

    Right or wrong, people look to the church leaders and their reaction to books and if quoted or referenced, becomes a statement of church doctrine, when really we should be doing what was mentioned, and reading out of the best books whatever we find of value and using our own intellect to govern ourselves.

    I think the church should stay out of providing reading materials or lists and let me decide what I should or shouldn’t read. I actually think the Internet and blogs like this one are doing a fine job of providing me with materials that benefit me, and when I don’t like certain slant from some blogs, I go find another one I do like. If the church had a sanctioned blog, I’d feel obligated to agree with it, and that would limit my study and growth.

  10. #8. Funny you mention that, but yes, Glenn Beck was there, too. It seems that Deseret is a partisan institution, and that’s a little troubling to me. I think that’s why I think Church-approved literature probably can’t happen the way we want it to. “Approving” always seems to be equated with “endorsement of ideas.”

  11. Just more of that Mormon mind control, isn’t it? I find DB useful, but I understand the limitations. I tend to find more books on Albris and Abebooks anyway. I usually buy my Temple Calendar AT CB and love to browse.

  12. #9 – Clark, I agree that they are well-read, although I would be curious to see whether it is all apostles. I can think of a few who always use other literature but a few who never do. Moreover, it does seem to be the same sort of stuff rolling around.

    #10 – I agree that the Church would have problems if they started recommending things, unless of course they print their own versions with little disclaimers ‘The views in this book where a product of the authors time’.

    #12 – I am not sure whether you are implying that no Mormons read Brodie’s book, but I am pretty confident when I say that I bet most of the people here have.

  13. #16, Rico: “#10 – I agree that the Church would have problems if they started recommending things, unless of course they print their own versions with little disclaimers ‘The views in this book where a product of the authors time’.”
    If even there was a disclaimer, don’t you think the problem would be that individuals start taking “approved” sources as doctrine and cite it as such? (On a mass scale from apologetic through to anti-mormon alike)? Once people start using it as such, regardless of disclaimers, it becomes more problematic, don’t you agree?

  14. “On the Deseret Book sidenote, I don’t think they’re a reliable yardstick for “approved material” at all. When the Twilight series (written by a Mormon) was yanked from the shelves, my friend just smiled and said “I see some executive finally must have read it.” I suspect the same thing’s true for the Gingrich book and others like it.”

    I served my mission in a midwestern state contained within a region often referred to as the “bible belt”. While I was there was a great stir surrounding a doctrine peculiar to certain Christian branches, called the rapture. In short, the doctrine is based off of certain biblical passages that speak of a time preceeding the Second Coming of Christ where some part of world civilization will be taken from the earth, whilst others will be “left behind”. According to some groups this event was called the rapture, and the bottom line is that you don’t want to be one the guys left grinding at the mill, i.e., one of the ones to be left behind. If you were lucky enough to be taken, then the presumption is you are going to heaven, whereas those who remain on Earth either are going to Hell, or have a short time to become saved before the window of oppurtunity is closed.

    I think that part of what was fueling the rapture intensity at that time was that a two Christian authors came together and began writing a fictional series based on the “what-if’s” of this supposed event, told from the perspective of those who were left behind, which also happened to be the title of the series, “Left Behind”. I have seen one of the movies, but never read the book(s). I even attended a “seminar” on my mission called “The Truth About the Left Behind Series”, that was delivered by a Seventh-Day-Adventist minister, though he wasn’t up front about his faith until he began making his case for the true Sabbath, though that is another story altogether. Suffice it to say, what is generally taught by the rapture, including it’s portrayal in the Left Behind series, is fairly inconsistent with LDS doctrine and belief surrounding the second coming and salvation. That is why I was very surprised upon visiting the local Deseret BookStore just day’s after returning home from my mission, to find the series proudly displayed as a special feature at the cashiers table. I assume that whoever was in charge of selecting books for distribution made the decision to carry this series based on it’s NY Times ranking. A quick search on Deseret Book today currently shows 0 results for the title. An author search yields one book by one of the series authors, called; The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love. Based on this, it is clearly a bad idea to infer anything about the Church’s position things based on what is sold through Deseret Book Store.

  15. #18 – Sorry that was intended to be a joke. I need to learn to use emoticons.

    #19 -that is very interesting. I wonder how many other weird books DB sells. Or how books they do not sell, which they probably should.

  16. Rico – I love this post.

    “I wonder whether the Church could provide low cost literature for Saints in other parts of the world where access to books is something of a luxury” , I think this would be great, I really really love this idea.

    I would have a couple of suggestions; the Church uses another trading name, priority should be made to local authors of similar cultures, the pricing of books should be on a little or non – profit basis. I wonder if other organisations currently do this. If not then perhaps a (Jamie Oliver) – (Al Gore) style campaign would be good.

  17. #21 – Thank you. There are options available in english, like the wordsworth editions. but i am not sure how accessible these are. I am no jamie oliver, so I wonder how it would get done. I think most organisations would have an emphasis on promoting an agenda, their agenda. the Church unfortunately does have one which does not coincide with liberal education, not that it is against it as a policy but in that it does not see its role to provide that education. so i wonder whether these kind of cries would fall on deaf ears.

  18. I wonder why LDS only use the King James Bible? There are many good versions available all of which are translated into modern english from copies of the original manuscripts. What if someone quoted the NIV, ESV, etc. in the church. Would this really be heretical?

    How many of us “Gird our loins” (King James English) anymore… Wouldn’t it be better to use modern english and say, “Put on my pants”?

  19. I think you will find that they sometimes do quote different versions of the bible at GC. In fact, Andrew S, another blogger here at MM, did a post on versions of the Bible and gave links to some others on other websites.

  20. Wonderer, this is second hand but I understand that J. Reuben Clark, who was a counselor in the First Presidency from the 1930s to the early 1960s, was a big proponent of continuing to use the KJV rather than more recent translations. He wrote a book called Why the King James Version (that I haven’t read). I don’t know if this is his argument, but one I often seen made in favor of the KJV is that our other scriptures use a similar kind of English; if we used an updated translation, our Bible would be out of line with our other scriptures.

    I tend to agree with you, by the way, that we should use more recent translations more. For discussion of this issue by people much more knowledgeable than me, you might enjoy DKL’s post “Update the LDS Study Bible–Please!” at Mormon Mentality last year, and the comments following.

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