Lesson 5: Studying the Scriptures

The Original

This lesson begins with a “lost and found” exercise where the teacher asks them to search the room for something lost, and doesn’t describe it.  I remember actually having my instructor use this lesson back when I was in seminary.

Then it says

“After students have searched unsuccessfully for a brief time, describe what they should be searching for, and ask them to try again.”

This presumes that one will not find the answer, and that the students are not going to spend enough time to do an actual scientific inquiry.  In fact, it is a lesson that is Anti-science.

If one were to give the students a puzzle to be solved, say; a mixture of chemicals that turns purple when two clear chemicals are mixed together, today’s students could probably find the answer on google in seconds.  Without google, but with scientific inquiry, they might not find the compound’s exact name, but could perhaps test the original chemical’s PH, viscosity and other attributes, and narrow down the solution.  Students are bright.

“Guess what I’m thinking” is not really a good test of ability to find one’s own answers.  Nor is “I’m telling you what the answer you should find is” a good example of learning.  Instead, it is psuedo-learning, it is prepping people to only learn the desired answer, and goes along with leading questions and planting suggestions as bad technique.  This lesson begins with -10 points off the bat.

One cannot honestly study the scriptures without learning gospel principles because the scriptures have been written to preserve principles” (“The Message of the Old Testament” [address to CES religious educators, Aug. 17, 1979], 3, LDS.org ).

This is a funny lil quote, because it suggests that everyone who studies scriptures finds the same principles.  Despite the FLDS believing in Adam-God, or the Community of Christ having a different definition of tithing, or the Bickertonites and their codes of conduct, yet all these groups have the same scriptures.

“Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. A true principle makes decisions clear even under the most confusing and compelling circumstances” (“Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 86).

Despite these “principles” being concentrated truth, people get many different principles out of the same scriptures.  Here they make it seem as though everyone should get the same answers.

To put it another way, this would be like the English teacher who says there is only one way to understand MacBeth, and anyone who thinks about it differently is wrong.

Then the lesson makes this claim:

Explain that principles and doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ are fundamental, unchanging truths that provide guidance for our lives.

To everyone who has ever used the phrase “He was speaking as a man” to excuse bad doctrine, I offer this; the CES, the official Church Educational System, is responsible for putting into kids heads that the principles are 1. easy to find, 2. immutable, and 3. unchanging.

No wonder so many members are shocked when they learn about the changes to the doctrine over the years.  Telling them “it wasn’t doctrine” when they were taught it was simple, and obvious to anyone who reads is not going to make them feel any better.

The lesson then compares the scriptures to a piece of fruit with one layer.  I rather think of them more like the epic of Homer, an ancient document that requires years of study, understanding of location and the nuances of ancient language in order to really understand, but one can enjoy even without training.

But this comparison of fruit implies that one can simply and easily understand the scriptures with just a bit of “guidance”.

The lesson then does explain the importance of historical setting which is laudable (+5 points).  Truly a lot of my love for studying early church history was kindled or at least fueled in seminary by learning details.

It selects D&C 121 for the students to learn about setting, and that it is set in Liberty Jail.  This isn’t about providing historical context at that point, but pushing emotional reactions into the children.

For example, think about how the historical context changes knowing the following:

1) Joseph Smith and Company had attempted to break out of jail at least twice by the time this revelation was given

2) Porter Rockwell and others shortly after broke Joseph Smith’s 6 year old son into the jail to give him a blessing

3) Joseph Smith had been convicted of illegal banking and ordered to pay $1,000 fine in Ohio, had ordered the burning of Gallatin, Missouri, and had sexual relations with a minor working for his family, Fanny Alger, by this point.

4. Mormon soldiers, under military titles such as “Captain Fearnot” and Joseph’s lead had fired upon state militia.  How would groups that lead military insurrection against state police or the national guard be treated today?

Do those change the context?  Could they be played just as easily to alter the emotions of students?  Historical setting can be used to push the learner to a desired conclusion through spinning the tale, or only telling part of the story.  The priesthood manual’s lesson on Honesty (lesson 31) says that omission is just as much lying as intentionally telling a falsehood.  By leaving out details surrounding Joseph Smith’s arrest, the seminary manual is manipulating students into emotionally reacting, while telling them they are studying history.  -20 points.

Point out that some words used in the scriptures may not be familiar. The Bible Dictionary, the Guide to the Scriptures, scripture footnotes, and a regular dictionary can help us learn the definitions of words and understand their meaning.

The omission of other places to search for meaning needs to be updated.  Wikipedia, encyclopedias, School libraries, published works on topics, and more can certainly provide context, and broader views than the church produced bible dictionary, guide to the scriptures, and the footnotes.  They at least threw in one outside source, “The regular dictionary”, but now with a world-wide database of all published human knowledge in the palm of every student-who-owns-a-smartphone hand, this is a very limited “Only what we print is a good source” narrowing of scope that should have been updated.  -20 points for not updating, but +5 for at least mentioning an outside source.

The lesson then engages in this weird discussion about identifying principles and separating out the circumstance.  I call it weird because it doesn’t give any hard guidelines, and this kind of study can lead people to make some really wrong conclusions.  For example, if one reads that one shouldn’t wear mixed-cloth garments in the bible, and decides that the principle is “one should not mix” they could conclude the temple is a fallen concept because one can buy Cotton-poly garments from the church.  Or if one reads about the tribe of Benjamin slaughtering the men of the town and forcing the women to marry them, one might conclude that rape can be divinely inspired.  The author of the lesson clearly had only particular principles in mind, without giving thorough guidance as to how to find those principles.  I’m going to guess that as we proceed into future lessons, the answer will be shown to be: “Whatever the LDS leaders are currently saying”.

This part is just bad form regardless.

“If [you] are acquainted with the revelations, there is no question—personal or social or political or occupational—that need go unanswered. (“Teach the Scriptures” [address to CES religious educators, Oct. 14, 1977], 3–4, LDS.org

Is it any wonder that there are over 200 split off groups from the mormon origins with thinking like this?  Find a scripture, identify a principle, and then apply it to every question in your life.  The scriptures are like a ouija board that if you open it up and select a random set of scriptures and then filter them, answers to all of life questions are mystically revealed.

I think this lesson was written poorly and without real thought that students have their own minds.  I think it is meant to prep students to only receive certain answers that are going to be spoon fed, and that it is given in a wrapper than the church has all the answers to life’s problems.  It creates dependence without thought, and that is one of the bad behaviors organizations should strive to remove.



This entry was posted in Seminary Manuals. Bookmark the permalink.
Last edited by Mithryn on March 28, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.