Ben Crowder

Category: ReligionPage 1 of 39 (388 posts)

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

A good series of blog posts by John Gee, my Coptic/Egyptian professor at BYU, on youth leaving the Church:

In the last post he talks about the NSYR’s concept of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which he explains in more detail, but this gets the basic idea across (and the quote here is from Smith and Denton’s Soul Searching, cited in Gee’s original post):

[Moralistic Therapeutic Deism] is “about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents. This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, … etc. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.”

Yes, men are that they might have joy, and the gospel is certainly meant to be a source of comfort to us, and all those things listed are in fact good. But this weak and watered-down philosophy misses out on the way we actually get those good things — by sacrificing, by repenting, by doing everything God asks us to do, even and especially when it’s difficult or embarrassing or unpopular or boring.

I’m reminded of this quote from C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (at the end of Book I, chapter 5):

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

One Quiet Night

After a ten-year break, I’ve started writing music again. The new piece is called “One Quiet Night” and is a song about Christ that I wrote for a family Christmas party (I played piano, my wife played viola, and two of my wife’s siblings sang). At some point I’m hoping to record it, but until then, the sheet music will have to do. (It’s available in PDF, and the MusicXML is also available.)

Sustaining the presence

From Sustaining the Presence, a great essay by Karandeep Singh in the book Finding God at BYU:

The Lord’s University taught me a new tongue, one that enables me to do three things: (1) delineate between spiritual discourse and worldly discourse; (2) recognize when I have slipped from the spiritual into the worldly and rectify the slippage; and (3) check my tendency to hijack the language of the spiritual to suit my convenience in the worldly.

And:

I returned to BYU for a graduate degree because of the abundance of the spirit on its campus. Partaking of this spirit creates the courage to dream, and consequently there are dreamers aplenty here. So I returned to the machine shop to mend the tires, knowing that I must leave again to go elsewhere for a Ph.D. But this time I will leave understanding that unless one is careful, there is a negative correlation between advanced intellectual inquiry and spiritual preservation. When I went away the first time, I found that the more I pursued only the nuances of political, economic, and social history, the more the spirit eluded me. When I go away the second time, I will do so understanding that it doesn’t work the same way if the two factors are turned around: Beginning with the spirit, no depth of intellectual inquiry is outside of one’s grasp. It is possible for disciples to do first-rate intellectual work, work that has meaning. Indeed, to use religion to excuse substandard academic performance and intellectual sloppiness is to strengthen the false dichotomy of faith and reason.

What is my dream? I want to be part of a counter-renaissance of men and women who call themselves servants of God who will reclaim from the world the arts and sciences. I dream that the abundance of spirit at the BYU campus will, even in the face of apathy and materialism, initiate a resurgence of learning where disciples will once again create the standards for meaningful intellectual inquiry. Of course this is a grandiose dream. But there are dreamers aplenty at BYU in body and in spirit as embodied in the history and unique heritage that is BYU’s. If one is not careful, one can be infected with their vision. I stopped being careful a long time ago.

Propaganda-driven art

Also from chapter 20 of Chesterton’s Heretics:

The two typical men of genius whom I have mentioned here, and with whose names I have begun this book, are very symbolic, if only because they have shown that the fiercest dogmatists can make the best artists. In the fin de siècle atmosphere every one was crying out that literature should be free from all causes and all ethical creeds. Art was to produce only exquisite workmanship, and it was especially the note of those days to demand brilliant plays and brilliant short stories. And when they got them, they got them from a couple of moralists. The best short stories were written by a man trying to preach Imperialism. The best plays were written by a man trying to preach Socialism. All the art of all the artists looked tiny and tedious beside the art which was a byproduct of propaganda.

The reason, indeed, is very simple. A man cannot be wise enough to be a great artist without being wise enough to wish to be a philosopher. A man cannot have the energy to produce good art without having the energy to wish to pass beyond it. A small artist is content with art; a great artist is content with nothing except everything.

Lately I’m more and more coming to the conclusion that my own writing has little potential to be great unless I let my belief in Christ be the fire fueling it.

Now, I don’t mean that I’m going to start writing missionary tracts thinly disguised as fiction, nor do I believe that every story needs to be overtly Mormon or Christian, and I certainly don’t harbor any ill will toward fiction whose end goal is pure entertainment.

That said, I feel like my own stories need to be more religious in nature — science fiction and fantasy exploring themes like sin, redemption, pure love, selflessness, families, Zion, priesthood, godhood, and so on. (Some examples of this kind of thing that come to mind: the Zion-building theme in Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series, and the leadership/godhood themes in Brandon Sanderson’s books.) And of course the goal is to do this while writing stories that are still good, well-wrought, and satisfying — that’s a given.

We’ll see how it goes.