September 24, 2010

2010 Arrington Lecture Notes- "A Paper Mountain: The extraordinary diary of Leonard James Arrington"

The 16th annual Arrington Lecture was held last night at the LDS Tabernacle in Logan, Utah. Susan Arrington Madsen and Carl Arrington, two of Leonard Arrington’s children, delivered their paper in tandem. The paper is an overview of Leonard’s life with excerpts from his voluminous journals (26 linear feet on the shelf at USU Special Collections!). The following are my notes; this is not a direct transcription from the event. I followed a recording while paraphrasing. Direct quotes are, appropriately enough, delineated by quotation marks, including direct quotes from LA’s diary. The event had a celebratory tone in memory of Leonard’s life and works. Enjoy!

Carl: At the end of WWII an American soldier stationed in Rome went to visit the Roman Catholic sites on his day off. This private first class from Idaho, with some purpose of mind, found his way to the majestic Basilica of the St. John Lateran, which is famous as the place where Roman Catholic Popes are crowned while sitting upon an ancient bronze throne. The brass young soldier went straight to gaze upon the gleaming seat of ecclesiastical power. What the young soldier did next we know because of what he wrote on the back of a picture postcard:

“When the guard wasn’t looking, I lifted the barrier rope, climbed the stairs, and sat on the throne!”

Susan: The only reason we know that God did not smite this soldier is because this young man was our father, and he lived to tell about it. Tonight we are gathered to celebrate his life at the official opening of his diary. We are grateful to share our gratitude and enthusiasm for this remarkable document which is written by and about this stalwart saint, scholar and mentor.

Carl: Greg Prince (who is working on a biography of LA) assessed the importance of the diary as follows:
“The Arrington diary was written and compiled entirely by Leonard J. Arrington. We know the mind and soul of Leonard because he placed them on the page. The opening of the Arrington diary to the public is one of the most significant events in Mormon historiography in decades. Generations of researchers, writers, and readers will be the richer for Leonard’s almost unbelievable devotion to diary writing and for the commitment of the Arrington family ant Utah State University to make these diaries accessible.”
Susan: What brings all of you here tonight? Perhaps because you believe American West and Mormon history are important and you want to learn more. Or L was your professor. Maybe you knew him as a colleague at the historical department of the church. Or maybe you were impacted by an unplanned conversation with him at a lecture, on an airplane, or in his office.  
Carl: Our father wrote about things that touch on almost every aspect of the beehive state. If you have a job at Hill Field, or Thiokol, or Kennecott Copper Mine, or sugarbeets, LA has probably written about your family, business or college. Maybe he wrote about you.

Susan: Maybe you never met him but are a fan of his books. He wrote, co-authored or contributed to 36 books and 22 monographs. Brigham Young: American Moses, or The Mormon Experience written with his friend Davis Bitton. Or his grand-slam book published in 1958, Great Basin Kingdom, it remains in print 52 years after it first appeared. LA was dynamic, thoughtful, prayerful, and surely one of the best listeners ever born. He was indeed something of a father confessor to hundreds who came to him to speak about things which they had spoken to no other. He was tolerant, non-judgmental, and very sympathetic soul. This tabernacle probably would not hold the number of closet doubters who came to him seeking wisdom and found it.

Carl: We believe his diary will come to be known as one of the most astonishing documents held by the USU spec. collections. He not only led an interesting life and he was a diarist with a lot to write about. He wrote for a few minutes every day or at least once a week, 30,000 plus pages by the time he passed away. It includes his earliest autobiographical notes which he started writing in 1927 at the age of ten as a farm boy in Idaho. It continues through his school years, to his undergraduate studies at the U of Idaho, to his studies at UNC in Chapel Hill and on through the 26 years he spent as a productive Aggie professor. His service as church historian, his thoughts, feelings and accomplishments during his post-retirement years up until 12 days before he passed away.  

Susan: In the collection you’ll also find thank-you notes galore, b-day cards, opera tickets, obituaries, invitations, magazine articles, political cartoons, etc. “Oh, yes, there is one other item you’ll see. Each year my father photocopied and placed in his diary his current temple recommend.”

Carl: Thanks to his efforts we have “a paper mountain of words that dad left for us, for you, for anyone interested. And to fulfill that purpose, dad entrusted his diary to Utah State University along with his vast personal library of over 10,000 books and 639 archival boxes full of research on every topic imaginable. Also included in his collection are the speeches and his voluminous file of correspondence. Dad..loved..Utah..State. The surest proof of his love is that his diary is here. LA was born into an embattled world (WWI) July 2, 1917, WWI In a small frame home on outskirts of Twin Falls. 2nd son and 3rd child of Edna and Noah Arrington, Mormon converts back when church membership was less than 500,000. Life was precarious for them, and certain dangers swept down on Leonard in a “Stephen-King-worthy cataract of medical calamities.” He endured typhoid fever, small pox, and a primitive tonsillectomy. His diary tells of his most harrowing brush with death.

Susan, quoting LA: “In January 1919 I became ill with influenza and within a few days it developed into pneumonia.” (This great flu epidemic killed ten times more people than died in WWI. It is still considered the most deadly epidemic since the Black Plague.) “I came very near passing away since my mother and father were sick at the same time. When Doctor [Clochek?] knew that I had pneumonia he told my father, who was also down with the flu, that I would die within twenty-four hours. My father seemed resigned to my death having previously lost a daughter, Thelma, to spinal meningitis. But my mother was not willing to accept that possibility. She got up over the strong objections of the doctor and joined Sister Bowen in anointing me, blessing me, and praying for me. Their blessing was efficacious and of course I survived. My mother always believed that God had saved me for a special purpose. As I achieved in school and in other activities she believed I was vindicating God’s saving gift to her.”

That miraculous healing as the result of anointing and prayer from two faithful women not only saved his life, but had profound effect on LA in at least two ways. First, it helps explain at least for me why he had such great respect for women in the Church. He was one of the first American historians to recognize the astonishing contributions women made to almost every aspect to the settling of the west, in medicine, politics, literature, schooling, etc.

Carl: Secondly, it helps explain why LA from infancy on seemed to have such a sure sense of purpose, even as he faced danger and adversity he had conviction that he truly had a personal destiny. That sense of purpose surely provided some of the fire in his belly that took him through challenges and helped make him a powerful mentor and valiant friend of the truth. In 1923 a new era began for LA. He started school. Leonard:

“At six years old I started school in Twin Falls. I enrolled in Washington School in first grade. On the report cards my parents received my grades were ‘very goods’ and ‘excellents.’”

Then in 1925 his father was called on a mission to the southern states. They moved into a different house, his mother was pregnant, the kids worked the farm and LA also helped in his uncle’s dairy. LA blossomed into an entrepreneur. A chicken seller came by with some prize-winning hens “that lay 300 eggs in 365 days,” he bought a dozen hens and a rooster then built a chicken coop. Eight year old LA provides detailed instructions on building his coop. It became an important source of money and food. LA joined the FFA later on, used chickens as his livestock project. He wrote his bottom line at the end. 35 dollars turned into 824 dollars. If anyone still wonders if LA was a true intellectual, at least from this story you can no longer dispute that he was a wildly successful egghead [laughter].

Susan: LA goes on to report in 5th grade his interest in spelling, his new specialty. He reports on various contests he entered. He took a special interest in history in 6th grade. In 1931 there was a county spelling bee. “We spelled for two hours before a girl from [something], Idaho named Helen Williams won. We had spelled 108 words before I missed the wretched word, ‘reimburse.’ I spelled it ‘r-e-e-m-b-e-r-c-e.’ I had never heard of the word before [laughter].

Carl: Besides school, his work on the farm and personal reading continued. He was ordained a deacon at age 12 and writes about his reading: “We’ve been studying the Bible in Sunday School, so I started reading it for myself. I started on June 6, 1930 and after eight months of everyday reading I finished on February 6, 1931.” That’s about nine pages or 3,429 words a day every day for a thirteen year old boy. I’m not sure anyone would call him a pious individual, but he surely kindled in himself a fire of interest in religion.

Susan: In 1929 under guidance of LA’s aunt Callie, the Twin Falls ward innovated the first junior genealogy class in the church. They filled out pedigree chart, family group sheet, and were instructed to write a family history:

“They even instructed us how to do this. We were to begin as Nephi of old did, ‘I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents,’ and so on.”

And indeed, the first words of Leonard’s diary that we are celebrating this evening are:

“I, Leonard, having been born of goodly parents…”

And thus he began his own book of remembrance and started researching his family’s history. By writing letters to relatives and interviewing them. The first biographical sketch that he wrote based on orig. research was of his mother’s maternal grandfather Lemuel [unsure], who fought during civil war, etc.

Carl: With his thirst for knowledge he chose to do something no other member of Arrington family had yet done, enroll in University for a college education. Father Noah disapproved, saying he would gladly support LA in serving a mission, but refused to offer any financial support for college. He even declined to let LA use the money LA had built up from his chicken business. Undaunted, he enrolled at U of Idaho in Moscow, supporting himself with scholarships, working in the eating hall, and shoveling “gold dust” on farms, cow dung, to pay his way. LA had this to say about his decision: “I thought I could serve the Church and Kingdom by getting a good education. I didn’t understand why the church couldn’t give recognition for missionary service to people who studied and wrote and taught the gospel in the context of higher learning. I felt a strong sense of mission in my schoolwork and felt the need to continue.”

Susan: And he did, he studied and worked hard and at the end of the school year in 1936 took account in his diary:

“A great change occurred in my spiritual attitude since going to college. This change may be for the good or bad, I don’t know. Many comparisons can be made bet my former and my present attitudes. One part of the change is in toleration. I used to hate people who smoked tobacco. Today some of my best friends smoke. I used to hate people who drank liquor. Today I hate only the liquor and pity the people who use it. I used to think that every statement in the Bible was inspired and faultless. I used to think that all of the other churches were wrong and that only mine was right. Having visited the other churches, and having become acquainted with people of other denominations I realized there is good and bad in every religion, but mostly good in all of them.”

He finished his bachelor’s degree. Clearly he was growing and becoming a deeper person. He worked on his PhD at the University of North Carolina. There he met and married a southern belle, Grace. They were married at the Baptist Church in 1943, a week before shipping out as a soldier for 3 years of service in European theater WWII. They wrote each other letters daily, literally, over a span of 3 years for a total of more than 6,000 pages. He served honorably as enlisted corporal. For part of the time he served in Italy and became fascinated with Italian opera. And contrived to sit upon the precious Papal throne as we mentioned before. In one letter he minutely described his army quarters and belongings, and then discussed his love for Grace.

“Next to the wall is your picture. When I go outside to look at the moon and stars, to hold communion with God, I seem to be in another world. The Arabian smells, the [something] of the Italians, the shattered buildings and the [indiscipherable] all fade out of existence. It seems s though you are looking down on me softly and lovingly.”

Carl: And then he waxes romantically and pens this poem for his beloved Grace:

“I would not change you in any single way
The steadfast dream I’ve held through years long gone
Is realized completely now in you.
You are the answer to my prayer,
The vision in my heart,
Your heart is the golden melody of dreamland.
Your eyes as clear as the springtime lakes.
Oh my darling, how I wish I could love you now!”

Susan: Back from the war he finished his PhD in N. Carolina, then the couple moved to Utah where he became professor of economics at USU where he taught for 26 years, all but a few of which they lived in Logan. The Arrington household had many overnight houseguests. Cousins, scholars, chums, foreign exchange students, etc. when LA was recently graduated from High School and had moved to Logan with his parents. He described many of the visitors. Such as one night when, to his great surprise, he found a hairy man in his bed. LA discovered quickly that it was “a brilliant scholar, a Korean war veteran, and a great-great-great, and I do mean great, grandson of the prophet Joseph Smith. The man I discovered in my bed who is now 77 with [indecipherable] still handsomely hairy, was none other than Paul M. Edwards, a distinguished member of the faculty at Graceland College, and one of the brilliant friends that our father fostered among the members of the RLDS church.”

Reflecting on our family life, one of the most charming records to be found in the diary are the minutes from our annual family New Year’s Eve meetings which began in 1966 and we held for more than 30 years. One of the things we did was create revealing “Favorites” lists. Dad’s astonishing list of things he liked best reveals the complexity of his tastes. Some make him seem very cultured, even highbrow, with Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as his favorite music, and Santiago’s Life of Reason as his favorite book. Perhaps it is no surprise he identified Brigham Young as his favorite personality. But this sublime list was not without the ridiculous. His favorite Beatle’s song was “We all live in a yellow submarine” [laughter] and his two favorite TV shows were wacky military spoofs McHale’s Navy and Hogan’s Heroes. He would laugh until he cried watching them.

Carl: He loved corny jokes and spontaneous social behavior. He would point out the window and say ‘Look! There’s the rare red-winged blackbird!” and while everyone was looking he would pick up his plate and lick it clean of the boysenberry pancake syrup. We need to say loud and clear that LA was saved by Grace [Laughter]. The reason he had time to be the most prolific scholar in the west was because of our mother Grace. She was energetic housewife, cooking, entertaining, overseeing yard work and repairs and raising the three children. She was a good cook. And she was a beautician, running an ad hoc beauty parlor, with a torpedo-like industrial hairdryers.  I can still remember the smell of those pungent chemicals that had lingering tear-gas effects after one of the neighbor ladies had been administered a perm [laughter]. She also designed and oversaw the building of their Logan house at 810 N. 4th E. and those 70-foot trees that are there today were planted my mother and me. But LA helped in his own way. He helped in the garden, coached my little league baseball team, and provided me with a printing press for my underground newspaper in 8th grade.

Susan: Big changes in 1972 for the family when he was called as Church historian. My brother James was studying at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Carl was on a mission in Bolivia, and I was a Freshman at USU. LA began writing a weekly family letter to keep in touch. He sent the same letter to the 3 kids using carbon paper in manual typewriter. With his legendary consistency he hardly missed writing every week from 1972 to the week before he died in February of 1999; 27 years’ worth of weekly family letters.

Carl: Everywhere he went he took his amazing memory with him. While a prof. at USU he also served on Stake High Council and in the Stake Presidency. On high council visits he would speak at some ward, and after the meeting some young person would come say hello and Leonard would say something like “Oh, so your name is Utahna Lawana Larsen. I see.” And then he would pause for dramatic effect. Like a mind reader like Carnac. And then he would say “Oh, you must be from the Sven Olaf Jenssen Hansen Swenson Larsen pioneer family from Scandinavia. Their travel was financed by the Perpetual Emigration Fund. They came across the plains in 1857 and entered the valley about August 19th. Let’s see, my recollection is that first night they had jerky, fried bread and butter as their first meal in the Salt Lake valley. Oh yes, and I believe your great-great-great grandfather was wearing a brown hat at the time of the meal.” By this time a shocked young person with eyes wide open and jaw on the floor would listen to this friendly stranger describe in minute detail their family pioneer history. LA often knew more about your family than you did. Don’t feel bad if this actually happened to you, it happened to almost everyone he met in the entire old Great Basin Kingdom. It was actually scary how much dad knew. If a fact was knowable and within 50 feet of LA he knew it [laughter]. As mentioned, in 1972 he was called by Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith to be the Church historian and recorder. In our minds, and the minds of many others, he became a model church historian for all to emulate. Arrington with a crack team of professional young historians revolutionized Mormon studies. Wisely, the team was given full access to the vast church archives. LA also founded the Mormon History Association, and was the founding advisory editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. The history division of the church was also created in 1972 with LA as the director. It was charged with the responsibility to research and write, it flourished under his leadership for a decade 1972-1982. During that time, members of the division staff published 15 books with 6 more on the way. Published more than 400 articles in professional journals and church magazines and recorded some 1500 oral history interviews with 750 persons in multiple languages. All this helped take Mormon history to new levels.

Susan: One of the perks for the Church historian LA enjoyed was sitting in the reserved seating area for General Conference near the front of the congregation in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. At the end of every conference he attended he wrote about the people he met, the best and not-so-best speakers, and things he would do differently “if I ran the zoo.” Here’s an example:

“The women presidencies sit near the front on the farthest right side facing the stand. Why couldn’t those sisters be placed in the center section of the congregation behind the Regional Representatives and in front of the Stake Presidents? Why do they have to be shunted over to the far right? Or why not find a place where the three presidents at least, Relief Society, Young Women and Primary, on the stand or on the front row. Another thing that must seem peculiar to some observers is that all the special guests on the first two rows all the way across the congregation of the Tabernacle are men. Don’t we ever have special guests who are women? If not, why not?”

While observing the scene at conference in 1974 he noticed the wives of the GA’s and where they sat. He couldn’t help but comment:

“Sister Sarah Tanner, wife of N. Eldon Tanner in the First Presidency, was stunning, lovely, in some new outfits.” [laughter].

In another account he related sitting in front of the Regional rep from Italy. For the next session LA jumped over the pew to sit next to him for the next session.

Carl: People from all walks of life came to visit LA in the historian’s office, many with a story to tell to preserve for the benefit of the history of the church. They ranged from profound to hilarious. Example:
“Davis Bitton was in this afternoon and he is a good friend of Myra Carrington, granddaughter of Albert Carrington, an apostle. It appears that Albert’s wife, Rhoda Carrington, was very large, weighing about 300 pounds. Albert had difficulty getting stockings for her because her feet were small and her legs were so large. He also was unable to find a chair which was comfortable for her which she didn’t break. So finally he employed a carpenter to come and make a custom-made chair for her that would both be large enough and strong enough to hold her. The carpenter needed to have some measurements. She was shy and self-conscious about her weight and didn’t want him to measure her. Finally they devised a stratagem. She would go outside and sit in the snow bank [laughter]. And then he would go out and measure the impact she made in the snow [laughter]. That was done, and she had a chair for the rest of her life.”

Susan: [Indistinguishable name] Pace was LA’s personal secretary and tells a memorable story about a day when he was working on a large project that had to be out that day. Feeling sleepy he asked her to Temple View market for a can of Coca-Cola, which she said “I carried back unobtrusively in a brown paper bag [laughter]. I’m sure it was for purely medicinal purposes. After he had drunk the coca cola he put the can back into the brown paper bag, and stapled it shut before putting it in the garbage [laughter].

Carl: There is indeed what some would call sensitive, maybe even embarrassing information in the Arrington archive. But it is not a warts-and-all account. There are some warts. But probably not as many as there might have been. Leonard was discrete with entrusted secrets and generous to his enemies. There are also plenty of his own personal joys, reflections, bruises and tender moments described in his diary. Here’s one of our favorites.

Susan: Leonard writes:

“We had a heart-warming experience as we went into the Lion House for dinner. President and Sister Spencer W. Kimball were just getting out of their car and greeted the three of us very warmly. In fact, President Kimball embraced me and kissed my cheek. He said he very much appreciated the fine things that we were doing and the books that we write. He made a little joke about being kept busy just reading our books. He seemed to be in a very good frame of mind. He hung onto me as we walked into the building and went up the elevator and down the hall to dinner. His color seemed good, his step rather firm for a person of his age. Camilla his wife was very pleased that we enjoyed her biography.”

Susan: “Some of you here tonight remember that for a period of time in 2001 and 2002 there was a controversy about the contents of Leonard’s archival collection housed at Utah State University. Representatives of the LDS Church requested that certain papers given to Leonard when he was church historian be returned to the church and that small, sensitive portions of Leonard’s diary be removed before it was open to the public. In the course of our investigations the family determined that a small stack of papers, perhaps eight to ten inches high, had been given to Leonard to complete a research project he had been assigned by the First Presidency. After Leonard’s death, the church-owned papers had been inadvertently gathered up and transferred to USU along with tens of thousands of Leonard’s own papers. The family happily and voluntarily returned these papers to the church. Regarding the requested removal of some of Leonard’s diary entries, the family decided that it was best to remove nothing, and to leave the diary as Leonard had written it. Leonard’s archival collection including his diary is, as we speak, completely intact and available to be read in its entirety at USU’s Special Collections.”

Carl: During LA’s years as church historian “he received support and encouragement from many church officials. But he also experienced significant opposition to his work from some of his supervisors and others holding general Church callings. Knowing this will help better understand the two following diary entries.

Susan: The first is a mock-dedication he wrote for Brigham Young: American Moses, published in 1985, several years after his release. It was of course never used and LA kept it confidential throughout his life. Here it is:

“To Elder Rameumptom J. Moriancumer, who by his regulations and irritating bureaucratic pronouncements has helped me to understand Brigham Young’s own impatience with self-important people of his own day, thus provoking some of the colorful language which I am delighted to reproduce in the biography” [laughter].

Susan: Another entry is more personal, private and heart-wrenching, a summary of his feelings at the time of his release:

“Our great experiment in church-sponsored history has proven to be, if not a failure, at least not an unqualified success. One aspect that will be personally galling to me upon my release as church historian will be the gibes of my non-Mormon and anti-Mormon friends: ‘I told you so!’ they will say. Some scholars, Mormon and non-Mormons alike, have contended that skeptical critical methods of historical research and writing are incompatible with the maintenance of a firm testimony of the gospel. I have felt confident that they were wrong. And I have said so publicly many times in professional papers, talks, books, and in private conversations.”

Carl: “Our experience in reading Leonard’s diary and other papers is that the Arrington archives contain many treasures. There you will find wild tales of courage and misadventures of trappers, Native American chiefs, governors, ill-fated handcart companies, rich business entrepreneurs, apostles, Danites, FBI intrigue, annoying high school principles, unacknowledged polygamous families, saints, scholars and sinners, and people with varying degrees of devotion to truth and faith.”

After LA moved from his office in the Church Office bldg. in 1982 he continued to be a man who loved precision, clarity and humor. Consider his frustrations of bachelor cooking following the death of our mother. Woody Allen has nothing on LA as a comedian of the commonplace. He wrote:

[Susan reads] “My Stouffer’s cooking instructions say ‘place chicken pouch on non-metallic plate and puncture top three or four times with a fork to vent.’ Well, is it three or is it four? [laughter throughout]. If I puncture it three times, what might happen? What if I puncture it four? Would it get too much air on four? Would it explode if it was only three? Why don’t they say what they mean? Then it says ‘heat three to four minutes.’  Ok, should it be three, or should it be four? Will it be undercooked at three or overcooked at four? Or does it depend on the altitude? And why I’m at 4,000 feet should it be cooked three or four minutes? I simply cannot stand this indefiniteness. It’s driving me crazy making these decisions when I’m so ignorant and inexperienced.”

Carl: The madness continues with the complexities of garbage day:

“I get a note left by the garbage man which says they are not required to take more than six cans of garbage from my house.   What does that mean? Can I put out six cans plus two boxes? Or do boxes count as cans? Can I put out six cans and two garbage disposal bags or do the latter also count as cans? If I leave more than the instructions indicate will they simply leave the extra ones or will they assess a fine? What exactly happens? If I leave seven cans and one bag, will the fine be less than if I left eight cans and two bags? It’s all so indefinite!”

Susan: In spite of the changes in his life, LA continued to flourish and publish and contribute mightily. After his time as church historian our mother died but his work went on. He published his bio of Brigham Young to much acclaim. He survived a sextuple bypass heart surgery, and was the first Utahan and first Mormon to be elected a member of the elite Society of American Historians. He also wrote the definitive history of Idaho, prepared and delivered his brilliant series of 5 lectures on faith and intellect presented in Hawaii. He published several other books. His final book issued just a few months before his death was his first full-length biography of a woman. Madelyn Cannon Stewart Silver: Poet, Teacher, Homemaker. Of course he also told his own story in his memoir, Adventures of a Church Historian.

Carl: By the end, he had accomplished more than the little farm boy from Twin Falls ever dreamed of. He survived disease, war, hunger, love, fatherhood, PhD oral exams, controversy, and ecclesiastical opposition in his work.

Susan: Davis Bitton said “Leonard was my closest, dearest friend. I was with him almost every day. Leonard loved our Latter-day Saint history and its people high and low…he wanted to tell our history in a way that would be true to its richness, that would recognize both its wonderful humanity and the divinity that shapes its ends that would be honest and true and therefore credible.”

Carl: “The morning of Feb. 11, 1999 Leonard arose early from his bed and tottered out in his pajamas, opened the front door to feel the cold winter air and picked up the morning edition of the Salt Lake Tribune. Perhaps he knew that morning that it was time. Whatever his thoughts were that morning he left us. Of course we miss him to this day, yet we happily acknowledge that there are new winds blowing in regards to the writing of Mormon and Western history that are very much in keeping with the honest and forthright spirit set forth by our father. It is hard to imagine books like Richard Bushman’s brilliant Rough Stone Rolling, a biography of Joseph Smith, or the frank and carefully researched book about the Mountain Meadows Massacre without the pioneering scholarship of Leonard Arrington.”

Susan: Historians commit their lives to understanding and writing about people and events that they are passionate about. Great historians need to have their own distinct motivations for their work. After listening to all of LA’s accomplishments one might ask what motive could drive this particular man to write so much, to enlighten so many, and in addition, to type out a 30,000 page diary like LA did. Why, why, why. Why did he do it?

Carl: Actually we know why, LA tells the story, and we will give the historian the final word. He writes:

“One afternoon in early 1950, sitting in an alcove of University library, I had what might be called a peak experience, one that sealed my devotion to Latter-day Saint history. Going over my extended notes, recalling the letters, diaries, and personal histories of the hundreds of past church leaders and members, a feeling of ecstasy suddenly came over me, an exhilaration that transported me to a higher level of consciousness. The apostle John wrote that to gain salvation a person must receive two baptisms; a baptism of water and a baptism of the spirit. My water baptism and confirmation occurred when I was eight, but now in a university library I was unexpectedly absorbed into the universe of the Holy Spirit. A meaningful moment of insight and connectedness had come to me that helped me to see that my research efforts were compatible with the divine restoration of the church. It was something like, but more intense than, the feelings that welled up in me when I listened to the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or was moved by Raphael’s painting of the Madonna in the Vatican Museum at the end of World War II. In an electrifying moment, the lines and beliefs of nineteenth-century Mormons had a special meaning, they were inspiring, part of the eternal plan, and it was my pleasure to understand and write about their story. Whatever my talents and abilities, and had never pretended that they were extraordinary, an invisible power had now given me a commission and the experience remained, and continues to remain, with me. Regardless of frustrations and obstacles that came to me in the years that followed, I knew that God expected me to carry out a research program of his peoples’ history and to make available that material to others. Whatever people might say about this mortal errand, I must persevere, and do so in an attitude of faithfulness. My experience was a holy, never-to-be-forgotten encounter, one that inspired me to live up to the promises held out for those who receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” [This selection is also found in Adventuires of a Church Historian, pp. 28-29.]


September 21, 2010

What counts as "Anti-Mormon" today?

Continuing my guest posting, take comments to FPR.

I used to throw around the label "anti-Mormon" like it was going out of style (speaking of style, will this "style" colloquialism ever go out of style? Good grief, BHodges, the 7th grade called and it wants its simile back. [This analysis of my rhetorical style could start getting out of hand really fast. Notice my strange use of the third person? There are about three people left in the world who can get away with such bravado. Karl Malone, Macho Man Randy Savage, and Elmo]).
Anyway, I've found that the term "anti-Mormon" sets off alarm bells amongst folks I'm otherwise trying to converse with. I like to avoid allowing the cows to get out through the holes I leave in the rhetorical fence, so I've cut down on its usage in order to keep conversations corralled. I've seen people accused of invoking "anti-Mormon" like a voodoo chant to ward off critical thinking. I've also seen certain anti-Mormons claim the term isn't fair because, after all, it's Mormonism they're against, not Mormons. So for many reasons the term can stop, rather than facilitate discussion.

A while back I was impressed with a blog post containing useful "types" of anti-Mormonism. I think the types are great for helping people recognize that perhaps things aren't so black-and-white in terms of being pro or anti, but keeping the anti-Mormon label as part of the descriptor is still going to raise objections. Also, the term risks being watered down. Do I want to roll around McCarthy-esque with a label maker and a cigar, slapdashing my way through internet debates? Maybe next week. For now, not really.

I personally try to use the label carefully by restricting its referents to the counter-cult fulltime exposers of the evils of Mormonism (think Ed Decker). The sort of irrational polemic folk who are more interested in winning a battle than reaching an understanding. So time spent, quality of argument, motive for engagement, are some of the most important factors for me. Anti-Mormonism is something that is enacted more than espoused from this view.

But I just can't shake the idea that yes, Virginia, there really are anti-Mormons out there. "Anti," against, "Mormon," the religion, the doctrine, etc. I don't object to being called "anti-torture" or "anti-Linkin Park," I wear the labels with a certain pride. But that's just me. So how to deal with the fact that I really do believe in anti-Mormons? I explain it when I use it, and I use it for a specific end: not to end debate but to identify the type of debate I am experiencing at the time with the hope of shaming, er, convincing, the other person to consider changing their strategy, or at least to help them understand why I can't take them seriously from an intellectual standpoint. I hope I don't use it as an "insult," but sometimes hopes are just hopes.

I'll tell you how I use it right now and you can tell me how you use it (or why you object to it. Of course, we'll know you're anti-Mormon if you raise questions about what I am about to say, so play at your own risk).

I personally try to use the label carefully by restricting its referents to the counter-culting fulltime exposers of the evils of Mormonism (think Ed Decker). The sort of irrational polemic folk who are more interested in winning a battle or a soul than reaching an understanding with me. I can expect double-standards, irrationality, quote-mining, and a strange smell (if we're talking in person). Ok, not the smell. (Not every time, anyway.)

So for me I take into account the amount of time spent, the quality of argument, and the motive for engagement. In short: Anti-Mormonism for me is something that is enacted more than beliefs which are espoused.

Your turn, anti.