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I don’t understand it, but I like it.

December 12, 2011
Adam Miller

Adam Miller of Times & Seasons

Over at Times and Seasons, Adam Miller has been writing a series staking his thoughts on what he thinks theology is(/should be?). He describes it as a Rube Goldberg machine, as something its creators are probably in need of a 12-step program to address (but who are also indispensible and not-thoughtless), and, most recently, something speculative, more like pure research than applied engineering. Throughout these posts, he describes theology as being gratuitous, utterly disconnected from the institution, from the need to assert “shoulds” and “musts”, while not being inconsequential either. Not “window dressing.”

His posts receive varied comments. Some people think they are sublime. Others (including me) just don’t understand them. Others yet, like Aquinas of Faith Promoting Rumor and TT of the same site, are not fans.

As I mentioned, I don’t understand the posts. At first glance, they seem utterly unremarkable to me. However, I suspect there’s something I’m missing from them because of the many other people on both sides who find something to them — whether they find something ridiculous or sublime.

Sure, it’s possible that people are getting worked up over nothing…and it’s definitely possible that there is so much polarity not because there is something right, but because there is something profoundly wrong here. Nevertheless, as with my last post, I just feel too…tired…to critique others’ experiences and reactions. It seems simply more convenient to say that I’m probably missing something here.

The Inner Analyst

This actually relates a recent Wheat & Tares post from jmb about reining in an inner analyst. As jmb wrote:

Life seemed simpler before the events in my life caused me to question everything. Going to church was something I anticipated, and it felt like welcome relief. General Conference was a charging of my spiritual batteries, and I derived great comfort from things like the Ensign. It’s not so much that I was ignorant of the problems in the church, nor did I understand or believe every aspect of the Gospel. There were doctrinal struggles, even then. But I derived happiness from my certainty, from my feeling, from my intuition, or from the Spirit (whatever that might mean). It’s also not that I now constantly bicker with church leaders, or criticize each talk and lesson when I go to church now. Indeed, at church I usually don’t say much, but listen carefully to try and learn. It’s really about what’s going on in my mind, the nagging voice that feels the urge to constantly correct, analyze, and thoroughly dissect each idea, sentence, and thought.

For me, I had a bit of a different experience — in more ways than one. Firstly (and as I commented on the thread), for me, it wasn’t like I had good feelings and then somehow I started analyzing over them. General Conference bored me (it has only been since my disaffection that I listen/read the talks pretty intently).

But secondly…I don’t see my life as having certain “events” that caused me to question everything. Rather, that’s been the way I’ve interfaced with my life for as long as I can remember. I may have stated this before, but for me, I can enjoy pretty much anything…as long as I can win at it. In situations where “winning” isn’t applicable, I think analogs do apply: for academic subjects and topics, I can appreciate any subject as long as I can comprehend or understand it. I tend not to like math because math is frustrating and opaque to me, but whenever I have understood the connections between concepts, I’ve really enjoyed it, along with everything else.

So, in that way, feeling and analysis are connected for me.

What does this have to do with Adam’s series?

As I mentioned, the posts seemed utterly unremarkable to me at first. Why was that? It was because I couldn’t interface with them. They didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t that they made bad sense to me (as I find to often be the case with stuff I was taught in Mormonism — which is why I really rail hard on Alma 32 a lot. I think Mormonism has a consistent logic that Alma 32 popularly summarizes…but if you don’t buy that logic, you’re really hosed), but that it didn’t make any sense.

So I couldn’t have good feelings or bad feelings…there was nothing to grasp.

(This is similar to the way I feel about God, faith, etc., most of the time. I don’t understand these concepts enough for them to have any real impact on me.)

But, I think it was reading Adam’s latest post, Mad Scientist, that changed things up just a smidgen. I still didn’t (really) understand what he was trying to say, but I felt I could sense enough of some intangible structure that I could have an emotional reaction to the work.

And that emotional reaction was positive.

It’s a few lines…

Rather, it is the theologian’s job, qua theologian, to mock-up alternatives, to slide into adjacent spaces and speculate – given what Mormons have, do, and should believe – about what they could believe.

…Theology must be neither window dressing nor advocacy. In order to be justified by charity, it must be more like pure research. The weak force it musters depends on slipping the knot of our interested agendas. Good theology, as pure research, is like good theoretical physics: in and of itself, it’s good for nothing. It’s useless. It experiments for the experiment’s sake. It looks for the sake of seeing.

I just like the idea of “pure research,” and the idea that there is a substantial mass to Mormonism that allows one to conduct such research. That there can be a “could believe” that is beyond or outside of or tangential to what Mormons “should” believe.

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5 Comments
  1. Basically, I’m waiting for Adam Miller to write: “Theologians are fan fic authors. The institutional church is the author of the original works who decides what fan fic s/he will make canon in the most (or least) fanservice-y way.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Faith as the “Cultivation of Restraint” « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  2. How does theology even work, anyway? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  3. Consider the Theologian: A Periphrastic Response to Adam Miller’s “Rube Goldberg Machines” | Mormon Philosophy and Theology
  4. Ask the Scholar: Adam S. Miller edition | Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

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