In the revelations of the Restoration, Latter-day Saints are enjoined to study out in their minds the problems they encounter, to seek Divine guidance in their decisions, and to proceed on the basis of the light they receive—always with the proviso that understanding and clarity typically will come “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little”(2 Nephi 28:30). Though now we “see through a glass, darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12), the promise is that those who proceed with faith, hope, and charity will eventually “see eye to eye” (Isaiah 52:8) and “know even as also [they are] known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).
What has been revealed in the course of the Restoration is both the grand vista of the plan of salvation and the fundamental laws and ordinances necessary in order to find peace and joy in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come. Many “great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Article of Faith 9) both in this world and in the next, have yet to be revealed. Many things pertaining to the more mundane aspects of our present existence have not been specifically addressed in the canon of revelation—perhaps because the issues involved are part and parcel of the test of mortality; perhaps because a flood of revelation on the subject at issue would stymie the exercise of agency; perhaps because particular seekers for truth, or humankind in general, are presently ill-equipped to receive the answer; or perhaps for a thousand additional reasons of which we have barely caught a glimpse.
The fact that many problems are not squarely addressed in the canon of revelations is not new. It is a reality that Adam and Eve encountered when they were commanded to offer sacrifices with no explanation as to why. It is one that the Brother of Jared encountered when he besought God to tell him how to light vessels he had been commanded to build but who, instead of being handed a solution, was merely sent back to the drawing board to figure out the problem himself. It is one that Moses and Brigham Young experienced when they found themselves faced with the logistics problem of moving whole nations across a desert to a new home. It is likewise one that each Latter-day Saint faces who, desiring to do right, turns to the published canon of scripture in vain to find an explicit answer to questions such as, “How is secular society most effectively to be organized?” “How does this or that political philosophy or this or that political party platform comport with Divine principles?” “How should persons of faith react to specific social conventions and practices—from family to nation-state and beyond—that appear prima facie not to comport with revealed truths?” “Which practices not squarely addressed in scripture should society promote?” “Which should it discourage or ban?” “What is the moral status of emerging technologies—in telecommunications, in energy production, in health care, and countless other fields?” “To which influences not squarely addressed in scripture should children be exposed?” “From which should they be shielded?” “How should one spend one’s wealth?” “How should the public wealth be spent?” “How should persons of faith react to armed conflict?”
Latter-day Saints can and should engage in seeking answers to these and many other questions, always with the understanding that even reasonable people of faith can reach sometimes widely divergent conclusions. That proposition does not underwrite either the relativist position or the skeptic’s. Rather, it may mean, that the pursuit of truth is has intrinsic value even if certainty and consensus on specific matters is presently beyond our reach.
SquareTwo takes as its point of departurethe restored Gospel, which it reverently embraces as “square one.” It takes as its mission to provide a forum for persons of faith to undertake a candid but calm, deliberate, and respectful discussion of the kind of issues described above, as well as many others like them. It embraces the time-honored dictum, In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis, libertas, in utrisque caritas: “In the essentials let there be unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; and in all things charity.” Accordingly, it recognizes no prerogative under the supposed banner of intellectual freedom to challenge matters clearly settled in the canon of revelations or in the public teachings of the divinely appointed revelators of the present age or of previous ages, for these things it regards as “the essentials.” Rather, it is a forum for exploring faithful applications of principles embodied in revealed teachings and applying them to specific contemporary challenges.
With respect to the non-essentials, SquareTwo seeks to provide a forum for implementing the Pauline injunction to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Readers of SquareTwo will discover that the universe of those topics that can be characterized as “non-essential” is vast indeed and that the problems they involve are real and sometimes vexing. Nevertheless, it is a universe that responsible members of the human family must engage—for failure to engage constitutes a position and produces an outcome.
The Latter-day Saint intellectual tradition has sometimes been criticized for being too compliant, too unwilling to explore new terrain, or too ready to accept the status quo. Undoubtedly, there are cases in which some have been less willing than they should have been to engage in the intellectual heavy lifting which, coupled with inspiration, would have enriched their lives and served their communities. On the other hand, some have looked “beyond the mark" (Jacob 4:14), seeking strictly rational accounts of things which, in a universe not ultimately constrained by the bounds of human reason and experience, lent themselves to no such accounting. The former have suffered from deficiency of effort, the latter from excess of misplaced effort. There are other challenges as well: In some cases, intellectual energy has been expended on exploring curiosities of sacred history (e.g., whether Noah’s Ark could have held pairs of all the world’s animals, where the ‘narrow neck of land’ was, or where Joseph Smith got the Egyptian papyri). These are all interesting and worthwhile topics of discussion, to be sure—but to pursue them to the exclusion of problems in the current world that require the thought—and action—of persons of faith would be regrettable. In these cases, some have said, in effect, “let the world take care of itself while I will focus on the mysteries of spiritual scholarship” when it might have been more useful to God’s children to say, “let the mysteries of spiritual scholarship take care of themselves while I apply to tools of faith to help shoulder the sometimes heavy burdens of the world in which I live.” In a similar vein, the Latter-day Saint intellectual tradition has tended toward an expectation that interested parties would come and learn our language, rather than seeking to be multilingual so as to be able to communicate Christian values and perspectives more effectively to persons of other traditions.
SquareTwo seeks to encourage a balanced effort of intellectual exertion—one that elevates its readers above the doldrums of complacency and sloppy thinking, but that at the same time constrains its discourse within faith-producing bounds; for those are the only bounds in which discourse of enduring value can flourish. All else is merely “sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1).
As the Creator has seen fit, in this latter age, to “pour out [His] spirit upon all flesh" (Joel 2:28), not only in the form of an ever-expanding canon of revelation through His authorized servants, but also through a veritable explosion of knowledge in all areas of human inquiry, SquareTwo believes it altogether proper to make faithful inquiry into the ethical and political ramifications of advances in biotechnology, in nanoscience, in physics, in neuroscience, and in every other field, just as it is proper to do so in areas more overtly spiritual in their focus—especially since the Lord has proclaimed with great clarity, “all things unto me are spiritual" (Doctrine and Covenants 29:34). Indeed, faithful inquiry into these and myriad other areas can be expected to enhance Gospel understanding, not diminish it.
In this era of frequent incivility in the public square, SquareTwo aspires to be a forum in which persons of faith can practice the art of civil discourse, thoroughly embracing the Divine counsel to “Be patient in afflictions, revile not against those that revile" (Doctrine and Covenants 31:9)—in short, as we have been urged over and over again (probably because we are so hard of hearing), to learn how to disagree when necessary without being disagreeable.
Finally, SquareTwo aims to help raise the bar of quality discourse among Latter-day Saints. It seeks to encourage coherent, well-reasoned thought—the fruit not only of careful research and well-developed argument but also of thoughtful peer review.
In the present age, the Lord Himself has proclaimed that His Gospel was restored “that faith also might increase in the earth" (Doctrine and Covenants 1:21). Accordingly, SquareTwo embraces the proposition that the honest and careful discussion of the issues of the day, informed by the “square one” of Gospel illumination, will contribute to the realization of this aim. We invite our readers to share in that project.
Full Citation for this Article: Mattox, John Mark (2011) "By Study and Also by Faith: SquareTwo and Scholarship in Light of the Restoration," SquareTwo, Vol. 4 No. 3 (Fall), http://Sq2ManifestoNEW.html , accessed [give access date].
Would you like to comment on this article? Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 200 words are welcome. Please submit to SquareTwo.