A Mormon Worldview

I have continued to be impressed by how the LDS public affairs staff continues to articulate so well where journalistic writing about the church and its members goes wrong. I don’t know if it’s doing any good. I don’t know that they expect to really have an effect on the mainstream media. But these commentaries are proving valuable in the way they highlight how media discourse distorts by providing a contrasting type of discourse. In other words, it’s not just what they say, but how they say it, and the timing they use. Although they respond to memes that surface, these commentaries do not participate in the vicious, always hungry, quick on reaction/slow on actual understanding endlessly churning news cycle.

In particular, I enjoyed the Jan. 8 commentary simply titled A Mormon Worldview. And this post is not so much about how Mormons and Mormonism is portrayed in the media, and more about this idea of a Mormon worldview.

Here’s the first sentence of the commentary:

While so often the debate about Mormonism centers around the peculiar and controversial on the one hand and the banal and unimaginative on the other, Latter-day Saints are animated by a much grander vision of life.

Notice the careful contrasts here — the peculiar and controversial/the banal and unimaginative vs. a grand vision that animates.

The commentary goes on to applaud the recent Pew Forum on Mormonism and includes quotes from Richard Bushman and Daniel Peterson. In particular, the case is made that in order to understand Mormonism, one needs to understand the Mormon views on “the journey of human life” — the pre-mortal, mortal and eternal states and how agency and progression are key factors in why and how we move along this journey. And it makes the following the claim:

This broad view of humanity stirs the inspiration of Latter-day Saints, elevates their earthy aspirations and gives poetic meaning to their eternal longings.

Poetic may not in this case be literal. But I think this is something that all artists who buy in to (or at least understand) the Mormon worldview should think about. I think that often this gets either lost or seriously cliched in our art, particularly our narrative art.

To quote again from the commentary:

This transcendent worldview affirms both a broad perspective of eternity and a focused concern with the immediacy of the present.

I’m sure that one could break apart this commentary from a theological or philosophical standpoint and find many points of contention and confusion. And I think that’s fine. This is, after all, for all it’s lofty language, an exercise in public relations. However, when it comes to artistic discourse, I’d like to see more attempts to articulate how this worldview impacts how Mormons live and how Mormons engage with (and absorb and resist) other worldviews. That is to say, I want to encounter more narratives that resonate with the present and yet echo into the eternities. I recognize that this is not an easy task. Part of the problem with modern narrative discourses is that they come loaded with their own worldviews. But surely some combination of content and form and poetics can make the Mormon worldview (or parts of it) present in the same way that other faiths and ideologies and ways of life have (and I’m not going to name all the same old names and works or any new ones — but feel free to correct that un-listing in the comments). And yes, in doing so, it may challenge or transmute or pixelate. But that’s probably all to the better because I think that, in essence, Mormonim is up to the challenge. I just have yet to see it fully tested. Not that there haven’t been some amazing, very successful attempts. But I’m selfish and want more.

7 thoughts on “A Mormon Worldview”

  1. Good stuff, William. And it’s interesting, from a PR perspective, that it quotes Bushman and DCP instead of GA’s, who surely have said similar things.

  2. That’s an excellent point, Eric.

    I think all of the commentaries that have appeared in the past year or so have shown a real awareness of life outside the church office building. Although it’s not always as direct as quoting Bushman (and non-LDS may say “what’s the big deal with quoting a prominent Mormon scholar who is a believer — that’s so obvious as to be laughable. It may be obvious, but it’s not exactly the default mode of official LDS discourse), I get the sense that the Church’s PR people are reading the same stuff and have noticed some of the same things that many of us in the Bloggernacle are. I don’t know that that deserves great applause. And yet, it’s amazing how disconnected institutional PR people can often be.

  3. Thanks for pointing out the Mormon Worldview post from the Church’s newsroom. But in the end, I was a little disappointed — I felt like the post didn’t live up to the promise of its first paragraph or two.

    But I agree with its premise. Understanding the Mormon worldview would help outsiders evaluate Mormonism better.

    I couldn’t help but think, while reading this, that Mormon literature might benefit from realizing the difference between the Mormon worldview and that of others. Couldn’t it be argued that some of the more successful works of Mormon literature attempt to explain and explore the Mormon worldview, while less successful works try to explore Mormonism from an outsider’s perspective?

    Certainly, Mormons flocked to read “Added Upon” and see “Saturday’s Warrior”, despite their faults, while better-written works like “The Backslider” don’t have the scope or focus on the Mormon worldview nearly as much.

    I haven’t explore that idea, but I wonder if the Great Mormon Novel won’t be able to speak to Mormons because it explores the Mormon worldview, while at the same time successfully explaining that worldview to the non-LDS audience, perhaps in a way that shows how that worldview fits with human experience.

  4. I enjoyed reading all this. I’m new to this blog and find it refreshing and interesting.

    I’d love more than anything to write a novel that fits Kent Larsen’s last paragraph–if only I could work out how to do it. Thanks for the new goal.

  5. Thanks, Anne.

    Hopefully it’s something a lot of us are thinking about — and maybe even working on.

  6. Thanks to both of you!
    Yes, sweet Anne,
    Be creative out of the compassion He did show us, listening together to the Prophetic word for the love of The Father and his Son, obtaining and prayerfully building our faith by the Holy Gift we received, looking around us for sharing the mercy of Him who is the living Eternal Truth.

    Our inspired works will keep us from failing or falling, so those who see our reflected creativity will reach out their hands, be pulled out of the fire and learn the difference between garments spotted by flesh of the world, and the garments of His Saints and Angels, able to wear the Wedding garments at the feast of our noble King in whose kIngdom we now are servants

    The last time I met Hugh Nibley, that great informant of Mankind, he mentioned three important points apostle John A. Widtsoe once had told him:–“Produce, produce, produce”.

    “Echo into the eternities” is so well put by Willam Morris ! Producing such echoes into the eternities as our personal Books of Life, such as we really are in our evenly distributed entropy – to the glory of Him, the only wise God our Saviour.

    We are not for sale! Are we, and all LDS-artists who come after us, willing to settle for less than producing unforgettable forever classics? In our w(m)eakness, we whisper: But bcause He redeemed us all we aim to sing and write and olay and film epos of “exceeding joy”. Faute de Mieux! LIGHTS ON you MORMONS!

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