Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Good & bad wisdom

In my January Relief Society newsletter, there was a blurb from Elder Neil L. Andersen's talk Reverence for God is the Beginning of Wisdom, which can be found in full here.

The chunk picked out to be in the newsletter goes like this:

I want to emphasize several principles of wisdom. First, in our age of information and knowledge, we must seek after wisdom. Wisdom is multidimensional and comes in different sizes and colors. Wisdom gained early brings enormous blessings. Wisdom in one area may not be transferable to another. And finally, the wisdom of the world, while in many cases very valuable, is most valuable when it humbly bows to the wisdom of God.
The scriptures describe two types of wisdom: the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. The wisdom of the world has both a positive and a negative component. In the darkest description, it could be described as a partial truth, mixed with intelligence and manipulation, to achieve selfish or evil purposes.
An example from the Book of Mormon is the man Amlici. The scriptures say that “a certain man, being called Amlici, he being a very cunning man, yea, a wise man as to the wisdom of the world … [drew] away much people after him.” The scriptures go on to describe Amlici as a “wicked man, … [whose] intent [was] to destroy the church of God” (Alma 2:1–2, 4; emphasis added). We are not interested in this kind of wisdom.
There is another kind of wisdom of the world that is not nearly so sinister. In fact it is very positive. This wisdom is consciously acquired through study, reflection, observation, and hard work. It is very valuable and helpful in the things we do. To good and decent people, it comes as we experience our mortality.
Let's just say that I don't really get it. As a Church, we are constantly encouraged to learn. We are taught that we all have gifts we can develop through learning, whether it is skills or hobbies. We are taught that an education in both a college sense and a religious sense is very important to our spiritual progression and eternal development. So why would we then classify knowledge into "good" and "bad"?

To me, it doesn't seem like there is really any kind of "bad" wisdom, unless you're learning about devil worship (that's mostly a joke). As Andersen clearly demonstrated, there is always cases of people using their wisdom in bad ways. But does that really mean that there are certain avenues of learning that we shouldn't pursue?

I feel like this sort of thinking comes up a lot in the opposition to Mormon feminism. Many members would like to classify feminism as "wisdom of the world." They feel feminism is a dangerous line of thinking that they should not follow, even if it means clarifying what "feminism" actually is. So you get people who respond to the "Let Women Pray" campaign by saying that we should not be questioning the General Authorities' wisdom. Or people who really do believe that, in the gospel and Heavenly Father's perfect system, women are subservient.

This is not to say that feminism should take the place of spiritual learning within the Church. Or that anything should. All kinds of learning can supplement the spiritual learning done in church (science and feminism are the first that come to mind).

I believe that many people are scared of certain kinds of learning, such as learning that may make them doubt the Church or their own testimonies, if only for a little while. They would put the kind of learning that scares them into "bad" wisdom, and accuse those who have allowed themselves to experience doubt of being led astray. But I also believe that it is necessary to doubt at some point in your life in order to develop real and lasting faith. I guess it would be a lot like the Indiana Jones scene where he takes the "leap of faith" ... but omg ... how coincidental is that name?!

We as a Church should not be closed off to any lines of learning, particularly when it comes to someone else experiencing their testimonies differently from ours. How ironic is it that a very radical, progressive church that was founded by a little boy praying and everyone else having the faith to believe him is now a stereotypical close-minded conservative church? How does that make any sense?

It doesn't. So I propose we throw out this old-fashioned line of thinking that makes knowing certain things good or bad, rather than emphasizing that only the active use of knowledge can sometimes be bad.

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