You Can Definitely Be An Intellectual And A Mormon At The Same Time

Some people believe that you can’t be an intellectual and a Mormon at the same time. They might say that Mormons are “all heart and no brains.” I think that’s horribly wrong. There have been many notable intellectuals in the church. Neal A. Maxwell, Jeffrey R. Holland, David A. Bednar, Hugh Nibley, or Joseph Smith for that matter just to name a few. These are not dumb people. There are many others in the Church that are committed researchers and scholars. In fact…many of the most solid members I know in the Church are serious intellectuals. These people aren’t just going around “taking someones word for it.” Mormons don’t want to be fooled anymore than anyone else does. So we thoughtfully, prayerfully, and intellectually “study it out in our minds” first so that our hearts can be prepared for learning gospel truths.   

mormon intellectual

Nephi said that in the last days…those that keep the faith will be few in numbers so it shouldn’t be shocking to see a lot of people wavering. With wavering comes a lot of questions, and it’s important to understand that no one is going to get mad at you or kick you out of the church for questioning things. All of us question things. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once said:

I think you’d be as aware as I am that we have many people who are members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to its origins, who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we’re not going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps of conviction. … We would say: ‘This is the way I see it, and this is the faith I have; this is the foundation on which I’m going forward. If I can help you work toward that I’d be glad to, but I don’t love you less; I don’t distance you more; I don’t say you’re unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.’

The simple dictionary definition of an intellectual is someone who “has the ability to think in a logical way” and engages in “serious study and thought.”  I’ve tried to approach my faith intellectually according to this simple dictionary definition. I think most people serious about the Church have gone about it that way. Why would I do it any other way? If “the glory of God is intelligence,” then I want to be more intelligent as it pertains to all of God’s creations. But keep this in mind. No intelligent person ever became intelligent without asking a lot of questions and exercising an even greater amount of faith.

Hugh B. Brown had intellectual struggles. B.H. Roberts, Martin Harris, and Brigham Young had them too. There are many more notable leaders that had to work things out in their brain before the doctrine would take hold of their heart. No one is asking you or I to exercise blind faith or cast aside sound logic. In fact…the logic of Mormon doctrine is one of the things that appeals the most to me.

The key to intellectualism in the church is found in the Book of Mormon. “To be learned is good” …says Jacob… “if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” (2 Ne 9:29) But the problem is that so many people stop hearkening to the counsels of God as they become more learned. Sometimes, intellectual speed bumps become spiritual block walls when we stop keeping the commandments. When we start thinking that we’re really smart, or that we’ve got all the answers…that is when clarity of thinking gives way to irrational thought. I think the worst mistakes are made when people jump to quick conclusions from incomplete facts and make rash decisions.


On the other side of the coin…there are honest truth seekers who are trying to “be learned” while simultaneously keeping the commandments of God. They’re asking sincere questions and hoping for a sincere answer. We’ve got to welcome and embrace that mentality. Sometimes “faithful” members of the Church will look down on a person for asking tough questions. They might snidely tell them that “all that stuff isn’t important to study” and to “just have faith.” If it was like that in the past…then it’s important to know that it’s not like that anymore. Regarding some of the most controversial topics in the church, Elder Ballard said you should “know the content in these essays like you know the back of your hand.” Not run from them or try to ignore them…but know them like the back of your hand. Generally, if people belittle a person for asking honest questions… it’s because they don’t have the answer themselves. Their own doctrinal insecurities get the best of them and pride sets in. Because they have deemed something unimportant for them to learn they might suggest that it’s also unimportant for the questioner to learn. 

Never should an honest question be met with scorn. It’s never a good thing when other people try and dictate to you how and where you should receive your testimony. What may be unimportant to one person could be crazy important to another person. Back in Alma’s day, the people in the church were having a lot of success in life. They were making some good money, driving some sweet cars, and buying some nice houses. Well…no cars at that point but some nice herds. (Alma 4:6) Everything was great…but then something weird happened. It seems as if they began to rate each others testimonies. Alma said that “they began to be scornful, one towards another, and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure.”

That’s crazy right? One member scorning another member for not having the same conviction as them, or just going about their conviction in a different way! So Alma continues by letting us know that this mentality among fellow Church members became a “great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress.” (Alma 4:8)

It’s alright to have different perspectives on things and it’s not a bad thing to raise questions. It’s the mode and manner in which a person questions things that makes all the difference. Agitation is a far different thing than curiosity. People don’t realize that Joseph Smith was the most inquisitive Mormon we’ve ever had in the Church. The guy was trying to learn all the time and from almost any source many years after he had already translated the Book of Mormon and had many other revelations. He was always asking questions and looking for deeper meanings. He even chastened other members by saying that they needed to “drink deeper” from gospel wells…and that if the saints would apply themselves to more learning that God would reveal to them everything that had been revealed to him.

You can be an intellectual and a Mormon. You can look at the doctrine logically, exercise faith, give serious thought and study to the Church and still be a Mormon. Definitely.

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