Friday, May 01, 2009

An alternative to 'true doctrine'

This has to be short as I really ought to be working on some school papers right now.

Two nights ago my home teachers came by to visit and read to me parts of this month's First President Message from the Ensign. This time it was it was an article by Elder Eyring entitled "Teaching True Doctrine." To sum up Eyring, he basically says that we need to go around teaching and sharing 'true doctrine' because 'true doctrine' is able to change lives, uplift, etc.

As many of you know, I think that the concept of 'true doctrine' in Mormonism is confused and in many ways nonsensical. (See my paper here, a revision of which is forthcoming in Element). I'm fine with the use of the term 'doctrine' if we want to use it to refer to specific and current teachings as found in Church instruction manuals and publications. However, to call any of them 'true' is problematic as the teachings of the Church are in constant flux and interpretation, leaving 'true doctrine' both relative to time and interpretation.

While listening to my home teachers talk about the importance of teaching 'true doctrine.' My mind wandered to an alternative that I think we ought to use instead. Rather than evoking 'true doctrines,' I believe we should (along the lines of doing narrative theology) share important stories (or myths in the academic sense) and our personal beliefs about them. So instead of saying that something is a 'true doctrine' or is true in an absolutist sense, we should share the story behind that particular belief and explain why that story is important to us and why it is of value.

An example of doing this can be found in Elder Holland's general conference talk "None Were with Him." Instead of dogmatically stating that something was the case, Holland shares the story of Christ on the cross, and then begins to teach by saying, "it is my personal belief..." What Holland does is presents a story that is shared as important by saints, and then gives his perspective of why that story is important to him, which we may or may not accept based on our own personal interpretations.

I believe a model like this can be applied to many of the varying issues and teachings within Mormonism, such as the First Vision, the stories of the Book of Mormon, the Word of Wisdom, blacks and the priesthood, creation, polygamy, etc. By doing so we can find a common ground of foundational shared stories and still be open to varying interpretations of what those stories mean. For example, with the Garden of Eden myth, we can share the story of the garden and it's importance as a foundational myth, and yet still disagree about whether it should be taken literally, metaphorically, instructionally, or a combination of the three. If a person believes that she has the 'correct' view, it enables her to share it without assuming any arrogant epistemic privileging.


  1. Interesting. I like it.

    It made me think of this:

    "I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like Methodism and not Latter-day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please, it feels so good not to be trammeled."

    -Joseph Smith

  2. Agreed, 100%. Story-telling, not preaching. Beliefs, not a code of do-or-don't.


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