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“If you could ask any question of a prominent LDS scholar, what would it be?” That was the question two college students put to dozens of their LDS peers attending universities across the country. This one-of-a-kind compilation offers answers to those young adults' thoughtful and sobering questions, such as:
- What is the Lord's part in my agency?
- Can one succeed academically and competitively and still be meek and lowly in heart?
- As a woman, how do I achieve my educational aspirations without neglecting my family priorities?
- How can I explore the temporal ideas of the classroom, history, and science without jeopardizing the peace of soul I seek?
Elder Neal A. Maxwell
Susan Easton Black
Kim B. Clark
James S. Jardine
Truman G. Madsen
Robert L. Millet
Camille Fronk Olson
Virginia H. Pearce
William Hayes Pingree
Everyday Lives, Everyday Values Interview with David Read, editor of A Twenty-Something’s Guide to Spirituality.
Program originally aired on KSL Radio on November 25, 2007.
Host: Doug Wright
Doug: We welcome you to the program! It’s great to have you along today on Everyday Lives, Everyday Values. We are going to discuss a new book. It’s A Twenty-Something’s Guide to Spirituality: Questions You Hesitate to Ask, Answers You Really Hear. We have one of the editors on line with us. David, welcome to the program! It’s great to have you here.
David: Hi Doug. Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Doug: David Read is here with us. He received a Master of Science in political theory from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has taught college courses at Utah Valley State College, Houston Community College, and North Harris College. He is currently studying law at the University of Houston Law Center. And you worked along with another editor, Jacob. Tell us a little bit about Jacob, would you, since he was not able to join us today.
David: Absolutely. Jacob and I, we met at the University of Utah as we were working together at the Institute. Jacob is, he is actually in law school at the University of Connecticut and must be buried in his books in the library; otherwise, he would probably be with us today, but he is busy doing that. But we just got together and decided that this book would be a fun thing to work on, and there are a lot of questions that not only ourselves, but a lot of our friends and people we have talked to around the nation, really, around the world at different universities, had about faith and academics, and that’s how we know each other.
Doug: It’s just interesting to find out how you guys met, and a little bit of your background. As I was reading a little bit on him, you know, being a principle broker of Thornton Walker, Inc., real estate brokerage in Salt Lake City – it sounds like both he and you have an intriguing background, a diversity background. And moving on now, both of you reaching out even a little deeper into higher academia. For you personally, what was the main motivation? Was there an epiphany moment? Was there a prime mover moment that inspired you and Jacob to write this book?
David: We were talking about putting something together on a little bit of a smaller level, really just at the University of Utah and maybe distribute it among students there. As we got into it and we started sending out questions to people and having them send out questions to others we got a bunch of responses back and people feeling like – students – feeling like they don’t really have answers to a lot of the questions that they have with respect to faith and the university and how to deal with different questions of science, and also with women and education — what their role is. So we decided that we would go ahead and get a hold of these scholars, and so we got a hold of them and they were jazzed about participating — very easy to work with — and it was really just a remarkable experience.
Doug: I am looking down the list of contributors here and boy it is impressive. From those who have reached the loftiest heights of scholarly achievement, general authorities, authors.
Doug: I notice Virginia Pearce here, daughter of President Hinckley, and Bob Millet has been a guest on this program. We have had the chance to talk with Truman Madsen. Although I have never had the opportunity to interview Neal A. Maxwell we have talked often with his son, Cory Maxwell, about Elder Maxwell’s books. Susan Easton Black has been a guest on this show…
Doug: …Phillip Barlow. The list just goes on. So you really have tapped into the finest minds and people that really should be able to answer some pretty tough questions. Did you go into the editing and putting together of this book with the idea of a list of questions to work from, or did they just kind of come in the process?
David: Talking with students we were able to get a long list of different questions and we took those and we spoke with these different scholars and authors and just had a conversation with them and asked them if they would be willing to write, and really all of them we spoke to were more than willing to do so and had ideas already in their head about this stuff. And, you know, it was a remarkable experience to watch them get these pieces done. They did it so quickly and, you know, they were just so pleasant to work with it was just remarkable. And so they were, you know, these questions, it almost seems like they were ready to answer them.
Doug: Yeah. Let’s talk about the actual format of the book and how this goes together, because we have a question that is posed and then we go through the arguments for and then the answer – how does a particular chapter work, for our listeners that don’t have the luxury of having the book in their hands like I do.
David: Absolutely, yeah. We will have students that will explain a little bit about themselves. Really, that they have questions that they have been struggling with. You know, one of them here, just the first chapter, with Ryan Thompson, who is at the Harvard Medical School. He says, “I am young in my career and I believe it is important to achieve success in my field, but what is a man profited if success comes at the expense of meekness? That is the most fundamental question for me regarding the pursuit of education. How can I be a successful scholar and professional and yet remain meek and lowly of heart and acceptable unto God?” And then there is an answer. This one is by Elder Maxwell. And then the chapter comes, the following after the student, will be a section that the scholar responds to and there is an answer to that question. And usually the students have multiple questions and they are dealt with in that chapter.
Doug: I was going to say, this must have been an extremely interesting process, to watch each chapter unfold, to contemplate the question, to pose the question, to let it kind of digest now. Elder Maxwell, sadly, has not been with us for some time. How did his response come? How did that work?
David: Yeah. You know, Jake was the one working on that. It came towards the end of the project and we had this question of being meek and humble, as well as being able to obtain the heights of education and being humble, and so my understanding is that we still had another chapter remaining to fill and I believe Cory Maxwell and a few others at Deseret Book came up with the idea of inserting that chapter in. And it really just worked perfectly.
Doug: This is, as I chatted with you and Jake the other day I mentioned to you, when I taught a Sunday school class at a very young age — I was just barely into my early 20s — and the kids that were in that class were just a few years younger than me. Now this was years ago, but I remember so many issues that came up. Blacks and the priesthood came up. There were always questions about past practices in the church like polygamy and so on — but one of that era — and these events were unfolding right then and there with the ERA amendment and so on being contemplated — and that was the role of women in the church, women’s roles in the church, education, careers, and boy, you have just tackled that head-on. This is on page 47 — “LDS Women and Education.” Would you set that up for us a little bit?
David: Sure. Well with this chapter here we had Emily Swenson — she was a student and she wrote a piece on, you know, some questions about what she should do. How should she balance her life out with respect to family and pursuing a career and so forth, and then Camille Frank Olson responded to that and the chapter really is an excellent piece. Camille Frank Olson addresses the question of whether you should pursue an education as a woman and how that all plays together. There are some great quotes here on different sections. One of the sections is to enhance financial security and she addresses that question of whether that is a noble pursuit or not for a woman and she says “A practical rationale for a woman to receive an education is the most commonly expressed, but considered alone is not particularly convincing. Learning skills to prepare for a salaried occupation is a side benefit of education, not the core purpose.” And then she goes on to quote a bunch of other things and discuss this. You know, for her, she is arguing that education is important in and of itself, but on the other hand, as the prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, has mentioned, it is important to get it because you might need to have the opportunity to provide for yourself, and so she deals with some tough questions there.
Doug: Let’s talk for just a moment about some other aspects of the book. Now we are not going to be able to go through every single place.
David: There are a lot here. That’s true.
Doug: Yeah, there are a lot here. But I wanted to go back to, since this is a book, A Twenty-Something’s Guide to Spirituality, and really an opportunity, especially for those who are in their 20s, many of them engaged in acquiring a great education — “Nine Reasons for Learning to Learn.” This goes above and beyond just looking at it from a woman’s point of view, but for everybody. I noticed the question was posed by Steven Sharp Nelson, Master of Public Administration, University of Utah. Tell us about this chapter.
David: Okay, sure. This was really a remarkable chapter. Steve Nelson. He starts it off by asking some questions, the idea about “What is truth” and the idea about absolute knowledge and if we can obtain that, and how that fits into the role of university, and Truman Madsen responds to this. The title of it is “Nine Reasons for Learning to Learn.” The original title of this was “Why Philosophy?” and we thought that was pretty much synonymous. He goes through and gives nine reasons, really, about the usefulness of the academic experience, going to the university, and he focuses on philosophy. He says the first one is gymnastic value for him in learning and studying. He says philosophers are, by that analogy, are at most “smartening dumbbells.”
David: The idea is that we are exercising our mind, and that’s the first. And the second point he makes is propaganda resistance, that it is so important to be able to think clearly and be able to decipher right and wrong, and not only that, but just our own propaganda – that we can convince ourselves of certain things – and so it is a very useful chapter. It goes on and on and on. We could talk for days about this.
Doug: Oh, I know. I noticed he gets into improved articulation, a mental framework. He talks about tracing implications and applications, communication, integration. Boy, he really gets into it, and the tools of creativity are just a little bit of that chapter. Let’s take a brief break and when we come back I would like to delve a little deeper into the back of the book and talk about some of the interesting things that have come up, some of the questions that have been posed. Again, this is so intriguing. If you could ask any question of a prominent LDS scholar what would it be? And many of those are included in this book. A Twenty-Something’s Guide to Spirituality, published by Deseret Book. We will be back with more of our conversation.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Doug: This is such an intriguing book, A Twenty-Something’s Guide to Spirituality, and it was edited by Jacob Werrett and also David Read, who is on the line with us. Sadly, Jacob was not able to join us, but David is here. There are a couple of things I want to make sure that we get into. A little later on in the book there is a whole chapter, “Balancing the Life of the Mind and Spirit on Campus.” Boy, I tell you, I know a lot of people at various stages, kids that went through college when I was there, and now my kids going to college. This seems to be an ongoing thing, of finding that balance. Of really looking at the rational world, but yet the spiritual world, too.
Doug: What do your scholars say about that, and how is that dealt with in this chapter. This is Phillip Barlow who addresses us.
David: Yeah. Phillip Barlow, this guy is a smart man. He deals with this, you know, and really all of the chapters, in one way or the other, deals with this idea of balancing college in faith and mind and spirit. Here Phillip Barlow, he digs into this. He says, you know, “Because I believe the loss of the foundations of faith to be unnecessary and tragic I have fashioned Ten Commandments for LDS students attempting to balance faith and learning well at college.” And, for him, he says, I will quote this on page 139. He says, “One purpose of an education indeed is to deepen the ability for informed and critical thought that is increasingly able to discern the credibility of arguments, alleged facts, in the proper context.” He goes on and has a few different ideas on this, and one of them is not to disparage the intellect. Here he is quoting a lot of scripture saying that knowledge is intelligence and we should seek that.
Doug: I really liked how he brings up number ten, which is simply “Remember the Point,” and he refers to something that Gordon B. Hinckley said, and after everything is said and done, just remember the point. It seems like a good place to end that thought, and something to contemplate as you move on.
David: Absolutely. Absolutely. He is right on on that, I think.
Doug: As far as weighing. . . on the back of the book it poses this question — how can I choose between two right answers? Many people, I think, almost sadly see the world in absolute — if this is right then that has to be wrong. And there are certain degrees of truth as well, so I thought that was particularly intriguing, and that happens to be — and I don’t know if this is in order of priority or just how it appears in the book but, how can I choose between two right answers? Boy, a lot of people in their 20s, a lot of college students, a lot of people who are building their lives in those early, early stages with a spouse, they find themselves torn between two right answers.
David: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think it must be an issue of life because it certainly continues in my life. Virginia Pearce, I think she addresses this perfectly, as well as some of the others. Her chapter that titles her piece is “Diverging Roads,” going off of the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” The idea is that we have to make choices and that is difficult. She says, “And so we wish to examine the dilemma of making decisions when the choices are between two or more seemingly good roads.” She goes on to discuss that at length — a really, extremely insightful piece.
Doug: Was there a particularly hard part of this book to deal with in the questions that were posed and in the contemplation and approaching the scholar?
David: Well, you know, I think that in every one there were certain elements — in every essay there were certain elements that were difficult. One that comes to mind was in the chapter by William Hayes Pingree, and then here we are dealing with coming to know truth and at the university we focus so much on the scientific method and we don’t consider the idea that you can learn, as William Pingree says, by an ocularly source, or even by the Holy Ghost, and that is a legitimate way of coming to know truth. And so he talks about this idea of coming to truth and he quotes some great thinkers, saying that we must make a leap of faith and that the scientific method will take us only so far and we must have faith to come to know God. Something that we just don’t focus on at the university.
Doug: Yeah. I thought it interesting that this chapter was kicked off by a question from Eric — and I hope I am saying this right ” Sorte. . .
Doug: . . . who is master of physics at Columbia University. To talk to somebody who is a master of physics at a university like Columbia on learning through faith, that had to be interesting.
David: Oh, absolutely. You know, he had some questions that I think a lot of people have, and Eric, I think he nails those questions and articulates them very clearly and William Pingree addresses those.
Doug: There are so many other favorite places that I have in this book, and ideas and thoughts that we just aren’t going to have time to flesh out here. I thought it was interesting, too — balancing all kinds of aspirations. Sharing spiritual truth, for example, with someone who believes only in the rational and the scientific. It just goes on and on. So many wonderful things are addressed here. As a compiler, as an editor, as somebody who has worked, obviously, so hard, along with your partner on this, Jacob — what do you hope that people will get as they read through this book, as they study the book and use it as a tool?
David: You know, I think the purpose at the get-go is to come to the reality that faith and reason are compatible, you know. As all these authors attest to, at the end of the day faith will lead us to truth, and so will reason, and we will end up in the same spot, and that it is possible. That it’s a reality. One can live that way. You know, one thing that I got from the book, re-reading it after it was printed, is that the Holy Ghost is a great teacher and that is something we don’t see at the university. That we don’t discuss that, and this book, I think, brings us to a perspective that allows us to see that faith is a possibility in an age of reason.
Doug: David, I have thoroughly enjoyed perusing this book. I have really enjoyed our conversation. My only regret is I wish that Jake had been able to join us. But thank you so much for sharing your gifts, your talents, and your time with us and this book. When you have a chance to talk with Jacob give him our very, very best.
David: I will do so. Thanks for having us.
Doug:This is A Twenty-Something’s Guide to Spirituality: Questions You Hesitate to Ask, Answers You Rarely Hear. This is published by Deseret Book.