A Personal and Rhetorical Review of The Crucible of Doubt

Givens, Terryl and Fiona. The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Question for Faith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2014. 168 pages. $19.99 in hardback, $11.99 Kindle. Reviewed by Jonathan Langford.

Back in 2012, Ensign Peak (an imprint of Deseret Book), published The God Who Weeps, also by Terryl and Fiona Givens, which I described in an earlier review as both “explain[ing] to non-believing readers just why Mormonism might reasonably appeal to intelligent, thoughful people” and issuing to potentially doubting Mormons “an implicit invitation and challenge not to leave the LDS Church without spending some time thinking about what the Church teaches and the value those teachings may have.”

The current volume is clearly intended at least in part as a follow-up to that earlier book. And yet the two are quite different, in several important ways. Unlike The God Who Weeps, The Crucible of Doubt both is more overtly directed toward members of the LDS Church (hence, perhaps, its lack of the Ensign Peak imprint?) and more specifically addresses potential sources of doubt that may trouble such readers. As such, the style is more personal and direct, the tone less abstract, though still both conceptually broad and intellectually rewarding. To illustrate what I mean, compare the following two quotes, both chosen at random by flipping open the two books:

“Most human hearts, we find, are made of penetrable stuff. Several catalysts to change open to our possible futures” (The God Who Weeps, p. 85).

“If God can transform cosmic entropy and malice alike into fire that purifies rather than destroys, how much more can He do this with the actions of well-intentioned but less-than-perfect leaders” (The Crucible of Doubt, p. 79).

The God Who Weeps cites a broad combination of poets, novelists, theologians, and other noteworthy writers from across and even beyond the Christian tradition; The Crucible of Doubt is equally quote-laden, but with more of an emphasis on Mormon leaders. Where The God Who Weeps summarizes its argument in five clear propositions, each spelled out in the Introduction and expanded upon in a later chapter, The Crucible of Doubt refrains from self-summarization. The God Who Weeps uses a chatty, less formal endnote format to cite its sources; The Crucible of Doubt employs standard endnotes. Continue reading “A Personal and Rhetorical Review of The Crucible of Doubt

“If it be a true seed, or a good seed”: A Brief Note on Narrative Ethics

(My thoughts in this post may not break new ground in narrative studies or be foreign to readers of AMV. I share them, however, as part of my continued project to elaborate a uniquely Mormon vision of language by exploring what uniquely Mormon texts, LDS scripture in particular can teach about the value and work of words.)

In Alma’s discourse on faith, he spends a great deal of time elaborating his central conceit. After exploring the need for humility and dispelling the notion that to place faith in something is to know that thing completely, he calls his audience to make a place in their being where they could at least receive and consider the character of his words. Then he introduces his extended metaphor: “we will compare the word unto a seed.” He continues by outlining some criteria for the seed’s growth: it needs to be planted, it needs to be a healthy seed, and it needs to not be tinkered with but left to interact with the soil.

My focus in this brief note is on Alma’s statement about the seed’s health—if it be a true seed, or a good seed—and what his language (as I read it) can teach us about narrative ethics.

The structure of the statement suggests that Alma felt compelled to modify the adjective he wanted to describe the seed. His rhetorical move prioritizes “good” over “true,” a priority supported by the fact that he uses “good” not “true” through the rest of the discourse. Alma’s revision of this condition suggests to me that there may be more value in privileging the goodness of words, the character of language, over their truth—their supposed correlation to reality. In this light, maybe the questions we should ask about a narrative aren’t “Is it true?” or “How true is it?” but “Is it good?” or “What good does it do or encourage its audience to do?”

The prioritization of a narrative’s goodness over its truth is an act of privileging narrative function and ethics over narrative content. Many people (including—maybe especially—Mormons) focus on the latter over the former; Alma suggests that we should flip that focus and attend to how words act upon us as individuals and social groups. He wants us, then, to see language and narrative as moral acts that can change us, our relationships, and the world.

Thoughts?

On the Mormon Vision of Language: Ministering Grace with Words

In this week’s ruminations, I springboard off an article about communication that appeared in the August 2013 Ensign and explore what it means to corrupt and to edify with words.

Thoughts? Sound off in the comments.

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On the Mormon Vision of Language: Laying on Hands via Language

In which I springboard off a moment from Man of Steel and explore what it means to touch people with the products and processes of the mouth. Again, I mention some things that are specific to the course I’m teaching, but you should still get the gist of what I’m talking about.

Sound off in the comments.

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On the Mormon Vision of Language: The Word, Him Who is the Advocate

After my hiatus, I’m back with more ramblings on re: language and Mormonism (and the language of Mormonism). This week I spend some time exploring a moment in LDS Church history when the Word stepped in to save the day (as, frankly, He will). I mention some things that are specific to the course I’m teaching, but you should still get the gist of what I’m talking about.

Sound off in the comments.


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On the Mormon Vision of Language: “Thou Hast the Words of Eternal Life”

After spending some time in the Books of Moses and Mormon over the past several weeks, in this installment I turn to an episode from Christ’s life and explore what it can teach us about life-giving language.

Per usual, your thoughts are welcome in the comments.


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On the Mormon Vision of Language: More Powerful Effect

Following the path I started last week in my meditation on Korihor’s curse, this week I explore Alma’s efforts to try the virtue of words.

Your thoughts are welcome in the comments.


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On the Mormon Vision of Language: Korihor’s Curse

In which I offer a counterpoint to the pattern I’ve discussed in the last few podcasts, using Korihor as my test case.


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