The Sacred Partnership Between Intellect and Spirit



I spent the majority of last semester grappling with how to balance the spiritual with the intellectual.  One of my professors made it a focus to help her Ancient Near Eastern Studies students faithfully find the balance between the two.  With all of our talks about Q and historical analysis and the like, I understand that her role as a BYU professor was in part to help us navigate the information faithfully.  One of the big questions asked in the class was How do I participate in this scholarly debate from the framework of a believing, faithful Latter-day Saint?

The dialogue presupposed that the intellectual was opposite the spiritual; that the two exist on a teeter totter that must be balanced–or better, tilted toward the spiritual.  It was helpful.  Really.  It was.  But now I have found myself growing past the either/or paradigm.  

The line between the two–intellect and spirit–have become much more blurred for me; on that teeter totter, they have come to sit much closer to the fulcrum.  It's such a Greek idea, this thought that knowledge and faith are on opposite ends of the spectrum. 

In studying the Scriptures–their history, their languages, their foundations, their context–I have found great joy.  As I have previously posted, I truly feel this is what I am called
of God to do.  As such, everything I do to gain understanding and advance therein is a spiritual matter.  My bias is absolutely, then, a spiritual one.  I say this because I have begun to think of my intellect, of the things I learn intellectually, as a method of exercising my spirit.  Knowledge has become one modality of my faith.  

My knowing faith has empowered me to take my hoping faith to more grandiose horizons.

What is "knowing," anyway?  Isn't there an element of choosing to believe involved in even the most concrete things?  Maybe what we term 'knowledge' is in part what is true and in part what we choose to believe as true.  I don't mean to imply that 'fact' or 'truth' is subjective.  I wholeheartedly believe that there is Truth (with a capital T) separate from what I choose to believe is true.  What I am trying to say is that the incorporation of truth into our beings requires us to say, "Yeah, okay, that's plausible and I'm not going to question it."  Even 2+2=4.  You have to say to yourself, "Sure.  2+2=4, I can get behind that."

Nels L. Nelson said that 
knowledge is only half of intelligence. To stop here is to be falsely educated. If, however, the truth perceived becomes a dynamic fact in a man's character; if it is incorporated into his mental attitude, and reacts immediately upon his life; if, in short, it ceases to be something in a man, and becomes the man himself, changing the very . . . [character] of his soul, then knowledge has passed over into power—or character—or wisdom—or, to adopt the term used by Joseph Smith, has passed over into intelligence; and it is such a process alone that represents true education. (Scientific Aspects of Mormonism)

I think that knowing faith is the process of taking Truths and testing them for ourselves, but also choosing within ourselves to say "Okay.  I've tested this principle and it holds water.  Now, I'm going to trust myself, trust God and accept it.  I'm going to make it dynamic fact.  I am going to choose to let it incorporate itself into my person.  I'm going to accept this as fact."

There is a sacred partnership between the intellect and the spirit, then.  Or, maybe they are not two separate entities at all.  The soul, as Joseph Smith put it, is the body and the spirit.  Not mind, body and spirit (as some yoga retreats and spas would have you think), even if I have been taught to value my mind over my body and over my spiritual notions.

7 comments:

austin said...

True, spirit and intellect are meant to work hand-in-hand. I think the need for care, though, on the part of your professor is well-founded. Biblical scholarship calls into questions a lot of things that institutional religions don't like. Learning about how the Hebrews used to be polytheistic, that they worshipped Asherah, that parts of the Bible that claim to be written at one time were written centuries later, that the flood wasn't literal, and on and on... these things can damage people's faith in the Church when the Church has taught the opposite--baby & bathwater etc.

In addition, I think there's a certain anti-intellectual undertone in the church when it comes to spiritual stuff--"too much thinking and scholarship can damage your faith and you'll think your way out of the church" is typical. I agree that that isn't true, and that both intellect and spirit are even necessary in our worship, but I don't always get that vibe from others.

Regardless: I like this idea of a sacred partnership and/or unity!

Lauren Kay said...

I absolutely agree, Austin. There is utility in playing it safe, in distinguishing between the problems created by men (and history) and spiritual matters. I wonder, though, whether we have adopted the Greek point of view so much that we are improperly downgrading our capacity to KNOW.

I have heard many times from many people grumblings whenever someone gets up to the pulpit and says "I KNOW that X is true." Whenever I ask why they object, I have always had the reply "Nobody KNOWS, that's the point of faith." I feel like I know some things in a way that no earthly force could make me rethink or retract. So, I think there's might be a disconnect.

austin said...

I agree, and as for your second paragraph, I think different people are using "know" in different ways. I know the church is true with my spirit, but it sometimes clashes with my intellect-side where I accept that I can't know things. Maybe the faith part ends up being even more of an intellect-side thing, where we consciously choose to believe with our mind what our heart is telling us.

Lauren Kay said...

People do use "know" differently. I would contend, though, that we CAN know things intellectually. It takes a lot of hard work to know-intellectually/know-spiritually, but I feel like I have made that leap on certain issues. Your last sentence is where I was trying to go with this post - that knowing intellectually involves trusting the spiritual side of ourselves; developing such a relationship with our spiritual selves (if I can make such a distinction) that we trust that our spiritual selves aren't lying to us or trying to deceive us. I think sometimes our intellect navigates our spirituality with skepticism, trying to poke holes in our actual, truthful experiences.

Anonymous said...

We read that our spirits are referred to as "pure intelligence". I believe a strong faith in this must be a basis if we are go trust out intuitive, spiritual, heart or gut feelings. This is an interesting debate. I will post late if this comment actually posts since I tried one once before and it didn't work.

Anonymous said...

Yay it worked. This is Sam by the way.

Lauren Kay said...

Hi, Sam! Thanks for stopping by. I hadn't really taken into account the idea that our spirits are "pure intelligence;" I'll have to noodle over that for awhile. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts!

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