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The quest for Mormon intellectuals: how to balance facts and faith
LDS » Mormon intellectuals from the past grappled with the balancing act.


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At one point during the interviews when Joseph Fielding Smith’s name was mentioned, Newell noticed a tear running down McMurrin’s cheek.

"You’ll have to excuse me," he said. "Joseph Fielding Smith was very dear to me."

At a glance

Tanner Humanities Center Symposium

The free symposium — titled “Faith and Reason, Conscience and Conflict: The Paths of Lowell Bennion, Sterling McMurrin and Obert Tanner” — takes place April 11 and 12. Kathleen Flake, chair of Mormon studies at the University of Virginia will speak April 11 at 7 p.m. in Salt Lake City’s Main Library, 210 E. 400 South. Her lecture is titled “The LDS Intellectual Tradition: A Study on Three Lives.” On April 12, panel discussions begin at 9 a.m. at the University of Utah’s Tanner Humanities Center, 215 S. Central Campus Drive, Room 143.

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Newell pointed out that the two had argued strenuously, and McMurrin continued: ‘’Yes, but he was perfectly honest in everything he said.’’

What he said • "Mormonism is not simply a commitment to a theology or a church practice, but a social-cultural order."

•"It becomes part of a person’s second nature; he belongs to the church, like he belongs to his family, and he does not quit his family because someone in it turns out to be a rascal."

• "An educated man is one who loves knowledge and will accept no substitutes and whose life is made meaningful through the never-ending process of the cultivation of his total intellectual resources."

Source • http://www.greatthoughtstreasury.com/author/sterling-m-mcmurrin-fully-sterling-moss-mcmurrin

Lowell L. Bennion, 1908-1996

Where he worked • Director and teacher at the LDS Institute of Religion near the U. from 1934 to 1962, 10 years as dean of students and professor of sociology at the U., and then he moved to Salt Lake City’s Community Services Council.


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What he did • Bennion spoke forcefully against the church’s former ban on blacks in its all-male priesthood, drawing criticism from conservative LDS leaders. After some months of pressuring by then-Brigham Young University President Ernest L. Wilkinson, in 1962, Bennion was forced to leave the LDS institute. He took his teaching skills to the U. itself, then later channeled his religious instincts into serving the needy in Salt Lake City.

"His methods sometimes were unorthodox, but his ends were 100 percent orthodox," then-LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said at Bennion’s funeral. "Lifting people, encouraging people, helping people and loving people."

What he said • "Faith is adventurous and creative. It not only is the sphere of the possible, but is also the power which often makes the possible come into being. Faith is that remarkable quality of the human spirit which first envisages the possibilities of life, then lives as though these possibilities were realities, and by this action often makes them real. In the realm of knowledge, one conforms to what is; in the realm of faith, one creates life after the image carried in his heart."

• "I used to teach religion; now I practice it."

Source • Eugene England’s "The Legacy of Lowell L. Bennion"

Obert C. Tanner, 1904-1993

Where he worked • Instructor in religious studies at Stanford University from 1939 to 1944, philosophy professor at the U. from 1945 to ’72, founder of O.C. Tanner Co., a major jewelry-making business, philanthropist.

What he did • An active scholar, Tanner taught and wrote about religion, philosophy and ethics. When asked to write a manual for adult LDS Sunday school classes, he drew on his wide reading to craft a course based on Christian ideals, not doctrines, such as faith, humility, courage, integrity, peace, justice, mercy, forgiveness and sacrifice. He built a national reputation as a generous financial supporter and donor on the ideals he drew from his Mormon faith, but was a quiet skeptic.

What he said • "Young people sometimes doubt the truth of the gospel or some part of it, and feeling the worthy desire to be sincere, they cease to be active in the church. The answer to them is to be sincere always. One must never violate one’s integrity, whatever it may cost. But must one believe all or nothing? Must one cut off church participation — the great source of righteousness in one’s life and in the community, because there is some doctrine doubted or disbelieved? Rather, is it not wisdom to begin, not with doubts and faults, but with the simple truths and virtues one can believe, then move on from there to others? Surely no one would claim to know all the gospel. Great truths are always just around the corner for those who seek. Jesus told us to knock, seek and ask, not just once, but continuously. One step at a time applies to progress in the gospel as it does to education or any worthwhile achievement. One is not a hypocrite if he has honest questions and is active in the church at the same time."

Source • Tanner’s "Christ’s Ideals for Living"

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