In a sense I’ve been going about the Sunday Lit Crit Sermon series backwards, at least compared to the excerpt in today’s post. I’ve searched for mentions of novels, books, theater and film and sought to understand what these citations implied about how we Mormons view literature. But in today’s excerpt Mormon doctrine and teachings, often the basis for the Mormon view, instead are a justification for an interest in literature. Instead of a reaction to literature, this is a claim that there is a direct line from Mormon belief to a love of literature.
This excerpt is also from Levi Edgar Young’s article on Mormonism and modernity, but here he turns to a claim of Mormon literary interest:
“Mormonism” and the Modern Man
by Levi Edgar Young
The love of the “Mormon” people for the drama and the power of the stage is known far and wide among the professional artists of the day, and it is only recently that Mr. M. B. Leavitt in his “Fifty Years of Theatrical Management” says:
“Sweeping as the statement may seem, I do not believe that the theatre has ever rested upon a higher plane, both as to its purpose and its offerings, than at Salt Lake City, the capital of ‘Mormondom’.[1. Leavitt, Michael B. “Fifty Years in the Theatrical Management.” New York: Broadway Pub. Co, 1912. Note the small difference between the title Young cites and the actual title. Despite the similarity of Leavitt’s name to some Mormon families, he has no connection to Mormonism other than his efforts in the theater. The statement Young cited appears on page 404, near the beginning of a generally positive overview of the history of the theater in Salt Lake City.]”
And I have it direct from one of the world’s greatest actors that the “Mormon” people have a higher appreciation of art and the world’s best literature than any other people he had ever seen. But there is a reason for the high intellectual standards of the “Mormon” people. Here are some of their truths they firmly believe in and live by:
- “The Glory of God is Intelligence.”
- “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.”
- “Whatsoever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life will rise with us in the resurrection.”
- “The elements [i. e. of matter] are eternal, yea, the elements are the tabernacle of God. Man is the tabernacle of God, even temples.”
- “The elements are eternal; and spirit and element inseparably connected receive a fulness of joy.”
- “Jesus was in the beginning with the Father. * * * Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made neither indeed can be.”
These are wonderful philosophic principles. They say to the “modern man” that he can only be saved as he develops his spirit and mind, for he can not be saved in ignorance, neither can he know the beauties of life and nature without the development of his intelligence. And in the idea that the body of man is divine, the “modern man” has a thought and ideal which will cause him to study his body and its needs, and adopt for his use only those foods that will be good for his body. He will become clean physically, and he can not deny that by physical cleanliness, he is greatly aided in his spiritual growth.
Improvement Era, v.17 n12, October 1914
This statement is, of course, very general. Even today professional surveys show that Mormons, in and out of the U.S., are more likely to be better educated than the general populace. Nor is it hard to draw the conclusion that better educated people are more likely to be interested in literature and the theater. So it is certainly believable that our Mormon doctrine would lead to a love of literature. Unfortunately, I don’t think we can say that it has led to a love of Mormon literature.
I do wish that Young had been more specific, however. How exactly does this emphasis on education and intelligence lead to a love of literature? Are there elements of our belief that would lead to producing Mormon literature that we are missing? I still hope in this series to learn more.
Of course, we should also note that in terms of Drama the love of the theatre has certainly declined from its height in the 1950s and perhaps even since the time this was written, something I discussed a few years ago.