Of Curious Workmanship
by Edgar G. Snow, Jr.
[Insert Memorizable Quote Here]
[p.49] Mormons like quotes. We find it hard to imagine that there could ever be a gospel doctrine class without someone saying, “I have a quote from a general authority.” Not that quotes are bad, or Mormons ridiculous for liking them. Non-Mormons like quotes too, as evidenced by the quote books galore at Barnes & Noble. Quote collections are popular for many reasons, one of which is to enable someone to appear well-read. I’m not knocking quotes, mind you. Quoted quips can be delightful and should be shared.
Implied in our saying, “I have a quote,” especially with a quote from a general authority (or Hugh Nibley, Lowell Bennion, Eugene England, or any other patron latter-day saint) is that we are appealing to authority as a part of our presentation. It’s a rhetorical device. If we [p.50] quote from Mormon Doctrine, for example, we can be assured that most members of our gospel doctrine class will not challenge the statement, especially if read from a leather-bound edition, although a small minority might suspect that some of the over 1,000 errors noted in the first edition by Elder Mark E. Petersen might still be lurking in the text. (I refer to the photocopies from President McKay’s diary that have circulated for the last fifteen years memorializing that incident.) Shakespeare is easily quoted with assenting nods from the congregation, no matter what the quote is about. In fact, I’ve been tempted to quote the King (or was it the Duke?) from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn who mangles Hamlet’s soliloquy to see if anyone in the pews was really awake.
Similarly, we Mormons like memorized texts. In fact, a memorized text is always a quote! You can even quote yourself. It’s more acceptable on paper, of course, than in a speech, since you’re probably better off not saying, ‘‘I’d now like to quote myself when I say …” Elder McConkie quoted and cited himself a lot in his books. If you publish two books at once you could get a circular footnote to yourself going that would be pretty neat, a joke between you and your editor. A friend informed me that Joseph McConkie, Elder McConkie’s son, once reprimanded a student, in a nice sort of way, [p.51] that he should stop quoting authorities so much. “It’s rabbinical,” he reportedly said, “to always feel the need to support your theological statements.” He continued, “If it’s true, just say it. Discerning people will know it.”
While I like quotes, I don’t like to memorize quotes or anything else. In fact, I know only two phone numbers: home and work. And I can’t tell you my home number without pushing number pads on an imaginary phone suspended in the air. Someone once said (I can’t remember the quote) that the mind is a room you fill with furniture you’re going to use, and the rest you put in the attic. Some people’s minds are sparsely decorated; others are filled to the brim with furniture so tightly packed you can hardly move around, covered with assorted knick-knacks from the Franklin Mint placed on doilies. The room of my mind is piled high with discarded wads of paper, a chair, and little Post-It notes telling me where to find things.
Some people think if they memorize a lot of scriptures, they “possess” knowledge, even if they have no idea what the scriptural passages mean. I would rather remember where to find what I’ve studied about the scriptures than spend time memorizing them. Others take notes at church meetings, trying to capture insights for later use. I used to think if it wasn’t worth remembering, why write it down? I’m repenting of that, [p.52] though. I, for one, favor Heber C. Kimball’s approach to quotes and memorization. When challenged once about the existence of a Bible passage he quoted in general conference, Brother Kimball replied, “If it’s not in the Bible, it should be” (see “Heber C. Kimball” entry in A Book of Mormons).