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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Underlined 1: History & Faith, Richard D. Poll

by Seattle Jon (bio)

Underlined is a new series where contributors share what they underlined while reading a book. Today's book is Richard D. Poll's History and Faith: Reflections of a Mormon Historian.

"I believe that the gateway to heaven is strait and narrow; I also believe that it is high enough for me to take my head in with me."

"No one deserves to believe unless he has served an apprenticeship of doubt." - Will Durant

"The impression among most of the laity that the General Authorities agree on all matters of doctrine and policy gives disproportionate influence to idiosyncratic views which are publicly and dogmatically expressed by individuals in the church hierarchy."

"Apart from the veneration of certain idealized episodes from the past—the first visions, the martyrdom of the prophet, the crossing of the plains—we have forgotten our past. And as far as such features of that past as plural marriage are concerned, some of us would appreciate not being reminded of them. Not merely the events of the past, but the concept of the past as a process influences current LDS thought very little. The significant legacy of the past is popularly seen as a body of revelations, of encapsulated and uncontested truths which are of equal validity and relevance in every generation. The rest of the historic record is nonfunctional in terms of the quest for exaltation and so, the counsel of Doctrine and Covenants 88 notwithstanding, the body of historical knowledge and experience is not brought to bear on the decisions and value judgments of the here and now."

"With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forward to lead the land we love, asking his blessing and his help but knowing that, here on earth, God's work must truly be our own." - John F. Kennedy

"I believe that many people place too much responsibility for the human predicament upon the evil designs of cunning and crafty men and women. I suggest that they are abetted in their designs by good people who do not know how to express the goodness they feel within themselves. So they do nothing."

"If everything we read agrees with us, we should enlarge the scope of our reading."

"Most dictionaries insist that a myth must be fictitious—like a fairy tale. However, that is not what it means to historians. A historical myth is an idealized version of an event which once happened. It is what the memory of an event becomes after people, usually for reasons involving group values, have transformed it so that it is more useful. The process of myth-making distills from the past elements which motivate people to be more patriotic, generous, loving, or virtuous in some other dimension."

"Only God knows the past as it actually happened."

"An interesting bit of trivia is that the Utah church uses the form "Latter-day Saints," while the RLDS church uses a capital "D" and no hyphen, "Latter Day Saints." I have no idea how the difference developed, but I do know that it is important to observe the customs of each culture in this matter."

""Were they but given the opportunity," a prominent female historian recently said of her Mormon sisters, "[women might] take over." Viewed in the context of the movement for women's rights, the Priesthood Correlation Program of the past generation might be seen as an effort to protect the church against that possibility."

"I do believe in giving milk before meat, but I do not think children should be taught anything, the unlearning of which will be traumatic."

"The study of history in general, and church history in particular, is faith testing. It will, in my view, almost certainly weaken faith if faith is defined as certitude. It may strengthen faith if faith is defined as commitment. Certitude is a state of mind; commitment is a state of living."

"Mormon historians would not wrestle so much with this problem of "faithful history" if they were not, in fact, so concerned about it. What is the "faithful" treatment of a document? If Joseph Smith actually wrote a letter, then what that letter says has to be dealt with. If you are dealing with Joseph Smith as a whole person, then you cannot just ignore it because it has incorrect spelling or contains some ideas that have not stood the test. You fit it in; you accept it like a lot of other things that do not fit in neatly."

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