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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Unrighteous Zeal: Part 3 Unrighteous Zeal in the Church

(This is a series on unrighteous zeal. I'll use quotes from the scriptures, Hugh Nibley's classic essay, "Zeal Without Knowledge" and President Cecil O. Samuelson's recent address, "Appropriate Zeal." There will be six parts.)


Joseph Smith seems to be the first to caution about unrighteous zeal in the Church because it wasn't according to knowledge.
And this the Prophet Joseph considered a very dangerous situation in the Church. Speaking to the new Relief Society, "[he] commended them for their zeal, but said sometimes their zeal was not according to knowledge."19 What good is the power, he asks, without real intelligence and solid knowledge? [Nibley]
Perhaps we can better evaluate what the Prophet Joseph objected to when the new history of the Relief Society is published. For now, we have the clues Nibley gives us.

Another time he warned the sisters against being "subject to overmuch zeal, which must ever prove dangerous, and cause them to be rigid in a religious capacity."21 Zeal makes us loyal and unflinching, but God wants more than that. In the same breath, the Prophet said that the people "were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves."22 They must do their own thinking and discipline their minds. If not, that will happen again which happened in Kirtland: "Many, having a zeal not according to knowledge," said the Prophet, "have, no doubt in the heat of enthusiasm, taught and said things which are derogatory to the genuine character and principles of the Church."23 [Nibley] 
Being religiously rigid as well as depending on guidance from our leaders instead of thinking things through and applying truths ourselves seems to be a danger. Apparently, this can cause us to teach and embrace false doctrine.
Yet Joseph Smith commends their intellectual efforts as a corrective to the Latter-day Saints, who lean too far in the other direction, giving their young people and old awards for zeal alone, zeal without knowledge—for sitting in endless meetings, for dedicated conformity and unlimited capacity for suffering boredom. We think it more commendable to get up at five A.M. to write a bad book than to get up at nine o'clock to write a good one—that is pure zeal that tends to breed a race of insufferable, self-righteous prigs and barren minds. One has only to consider the present outpouring of "inspirational" books in the Church that bring little new in the way of knowledge: truisms and platitudes, kitsch, and clichés have become our everyday diet. The Prophet would never settle for that. "I advise all to go on to perfection, and search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness. [Nibley] 
Zeal without knowledge is a danger. Joseph Smith blames this for the rampant apostasy in Kirtland and the misuse of metaphysical indications that were actually from the devil such as the blabbering in tongues. This misuse of the gifts of tongues the Prophet condemned.

Ask yourself if you have ever been guilty of being an "insufferable, self-righteous prig" with a "barren mind." I certainly have and I kick myself every time I recall it. But, I'm trying to focus my effort on avoiding it in the future rather than dwelling on remorse over the past.

With all the formal schooling I've had you would think that further schooling would make me confident about what I know. It hasn't. I keep finding out instances where I was without knowledge and facts necessary to make correct judgments or assert truth. This is humbling. I'm getting less confident about my knowledge rather than more. But, I'm trying to gain more in "wisdom and order" so that I can do better in the future.

It is clear that we all need more learning, wisdom and knowledge. What do we do in the meantime if we have sufficient to correct others or redirect discussion especially in a Church setting?
Above all, none should ever attempt to impose guilt or distress upon another by being overzealous in interpreting the directions and counsel of the living prophets. [Samuelson]
There are a handful of areas where I believe I've made unusual progress in applying gospel truths in my life. Instead of making me eager to share my success, it has made me more reluctant. Why? Well, because others' circumstances are different from mine. I cannot figure out a way to share it without appearing to be a "self-righteous prig." I implemented these changes at a particular point in my life. If others are not at that point, or even past it, I'm doubtful that my words will have a positive effect. I think I may be able to share some of this with individuals in private conversations but that hasn't happened yet. So, there I sit, quiet but anxious to share. I don't see that changing much.

It is especially hard when I hear little new but an abundance of "truisms," "platitudes" and "clichés" in Church lessons and talks. This mind-numbing boredom is difficult to bear. But, I've been in the Church all my life. I've benefited from all the Church programs imaginable such as SeminaryInstituteBYU, the works. I decided some time ago that, because of this, the majority of responsibility for my advancing my spiritual knowledge would be on me in my own personal study rather than on anyone else or the Church itself.

One of the things I noticed in college students I taught is that the smartest, most capable, students were the least confident. The dumbest were the most confident.

1 comment:

  1. AAAAAMEN. I've had my own troubles with excessive zeal and I agree with everything in this post.

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