George Handley on building a culture worthy of our revealed truths

04.23.2019 | The Maxwell Institute

I’m a religious person. I also consider myself to be an intellectual.

As an intellectual—a humanities scholar in particular—I write and teach about human culture and engage in debate and research about a wide range of ideas and values. I’m familiar with philosophy. I consider myself rational.

As a Latter-day Saint, I worship in church every week, serve in callings, and pray and read scriptures regularly. I’m familiar with the Holy Spirit. I consider myself spiritual.

I know very well that some people can hardly consider my religious life to be rational and that for others my intellectual life poses a risk to my faith.

In these essays [collected in the new book If Truth Were a Child] I’d like to explore what I consider to be the seamlessness of humanities and belief, intellect and faith. To do this requires appeals to both reason and personal experience. Some of these essays are directly informed by my research as a literary critic, some less so, but any separation of scholarly and devotional thought would be artificial and untrue to my experience in any case. My thought and my faith have benefited both from each other and from my fortunate employment at Brigham Young University, which has uniquely encouraged and facilitated their integration.

My objective, then, is simply to share what it has come to mean for me to think and believe as a Latter-day Saint. Our age is not one that is well acquainted with what it is like to inhabit faith, and far too many misunderstandings result. And I suppose too that behind my motivation is a persistent and nag­ging feeling that not only faith in general, but my faith in particular is little understood in our culture today and that I will have dishonored my experiences by remaining reticent. I confess that I am also interested in providing a more rational atmosphere in which Latter-day Saint faith might flourish. It is sad and unfor­tunate that religion has ever pitted itself against reason or been falsely accused of doing so.

What keeps me in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and what keeps me working at living according to its prin­ciples is the fundamental fact that I accept the tenets of my faith as plausible, compelling, and deeply moving. They make sense to me intellectually. More importantly, they have taken root in my very being as a result of acts of faith that brought personal wit­nesses of the gospel’s spiritual truths. These started out as, and continue to be, attempts to make a go at being a Latter-day Saint, to “practice” the religion; that is, acts of conformity to what I understand to be the will of God, which then bring me gradu­ally and consistently closer to God and make me happier in my life and more aware of the tangible and good fruits of faithful­ness. I am speaking specifically of the many dos and don’ts of the religion such as Sabbath day observance, the law of tithing, the Word of Wisdom, sexual abstinence before marriage and faithfulness within marriage, dutiful fulfillment of lay responsibilities given to me in church, service to those in need, personal prayer and scripture study, and other important forms of spiritual discipline. I have never been perfectly obedi­ent. What little I know I have learned not just from my adher­ence but also from my occasional deviations. There is a great deal I do not understand about the world and about my faith, but what I know is that I like the person I feel I am becoming when I take the claims of my religion seriously.

Belief and belonging are always precarious propositions, especially within an institutional context. I live with many ques­tions. But I live in faith, which for me means that I trust that if I find myself at odds with my institution, in time I and/or the church and its culture will change and that a clearer picture will emerge. It also means that when institutional and social issues are a concern, I try to keep my focus on my commitment and devotion to Christ. I didn’t choose the religion for cultural or political reasons in any case. I didn’t choose it because Latter-day Saints are my tribe or because my identity is that of a Latter-day Saint. I chose it because I believe it. And believing it, I do what I can to help build a culture worthy of what I consider to be the religion’s revealed truths. In the sincere hope that they are useful, these essays, however imperfect, are my intellectual and faithful offering to that end.

This guest post comes courtesy of George B. Handley, adapted from his preface to the new book If Truth Were a Child, part of the Maxwell Institute’s Living Faith book series. The book is available now at Amazon and Deseret Book.