Yesterday morning, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke at BYU’s weekly devotional on being “Bound by Loving Ties.” His remarks focused on the idea of religion itself, a word which many scholars believe refers to being tied or bound to something, (Latin: religare), like a ligament.1 In addition to citing Elder Neal A. Maxwell and friend-of-the-Institute Bruce C. Hafen during his remarks, Elder Holland referred to a number of other interesting sources. For those who want to dig deeper and learn more, I recommend these great resources from the Maxwell Institute.
Elder Holland cited Charles Taylor’s massive book A Secular Age, which describes a societal shift over the past few centuries “from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is [only] one human possibility among [many] others.” You can learn more about Taylor’s work and this historical shift into our secular age in episode 45 of the Maxwell Institute Podcast. BYU’s Wheatley Institute’s recent summer seminar focused on Taylor’s work, too.
Elder Holland also spoke of how “the gloves have come off in the intellectual street fighting” with a group called the New Atheists. “Figures like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens are some of the stars in what is, for me, a dim firmament,” Holland remarked. BYU professor Steven L. Peck directly engages with New Atheist thought in his book Evolving Faith: Wanderings of a Mormon Biologist. One recent reviewer of Peck’s book said his “favorite essay in the book explores the basis for faith in God. Are the New Atheists correct that faith is belief in spite of (or even perhaps because of) a lack of evidence? Peck doesn’t think so.” Elder Holland also dismissed the idea that discoveries such as the age of the earth exceeding 6,000 years must bring our “religious beliefs tumbling down like a house of cards” like some have predicted. Peck’s Evolving Faith carefully confronts older assumptions about the Bible that have been clarified by scientific advances and points to faithful paths forward through new discoveries.
If you’ve never heard of the Pew Research Center it’s a good time to become more familiar with it. Elder Holland referred to multiple Pew studies about spirituality and religion in the United States, which Pew specializes in studying. Elizabeth Drescher’s recent book, Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones was sparked in part by Pew’s research on the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans, “Nones.” She discusses her surprising research in episode 47 of the MIPodcast.
Finally, Elder Holland’s remarks included a call to recognize and remember the richness of western civilization’s religious heritage. He mentioned “a few of the great religiously-influenced non-LDS pieces of literature” that he read as a BYU student over fifty years ago in order to stress “how barren our lives would be had there not been the freedom for writers, artists, and musicians to embrace and express religious values or discuss religious issues.” His list included Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as Moby-Dick, The Scarlet Letter, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He included authors from Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to Emily Dickinson and Flannery O’Connor, religious leaders from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope Francis. Elder Holland expressed gratitude for the powerful religious heritage bequeathed by writers, artists, musicians, architects, prophets, and more:
“Voices of religious faith have elevated our vision, deepened our human conversation, and strengthened both our personal and collective aspiration since time began…So the core landscape of history has been sketched by the pen and brush and words of those who invoke a divine creator’s involvement in our lives and who count on the ligatures of religion to bind up our wounds and help us hold things together.”
Elder Holland’s words thrilled me because they resonate so well with what I’ve tried to do with the Maxwell Institute Podcast. The show features top-tier scholars talking about religious faith from a variety of different backgrounds, all in an effort to elevate our vision, deepen our human conversation, and strengthen our aspirations. This is where the best of scholarship aligns so well with the scriptural mandate of Latter-day Saints to “seek out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118). Over fifty episodes are now available for free at mi.byu.edu/mipodcast, on YouTube, and in other podcast outlets like iTunes. I hope they help enrich our understanding of other faiths, as well as our own as Latter-day Saints. I echo Elder Holland’s invitation:
“May we think upon the religious heritage that has been handed down to us, at an incalculable price in many instances, and in so remembering not only cherish that heritage more fervently but live the religious principles we say we want to preserve” (emphasis in original).