Memories and Reflections
Edited by Scott G. Kenney
Ericksen’s Religious Philosophy
E. E. Ericksen was born and raised in a Mormon village. His father was a “preacher of righteousness”; his mother, a devout plural wife. By the time he left Preston, Ericksen’s emotional, psychological, and spiritual identity was deeply rooted in Mormon bedrock. And for the rest of his life, regardless of how far his views diverged from orthodoxy, he always thought of himself as “Mormon.”
Ericksen’s religious views began to mature during his years at the Brigham Young College (1903-1908)—a period of “mutual confidence and cooperative efforts” between church and educational leaders, he later said. “Religious truth and scientific truth, it was thought, were the same. Both were eternal. Theologians and educators joined in the popularization of great slogans: ‘Man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge.’ ‘The glory of God is intelligence'” (EEE, “Chamberlin,” 276). In the classes of Mosiah Hall and William H. Chamberlin, Ericksen discovered modern philosophers such as George Howison and John Dewey propounding philosophies which he believed closely related to Mormon doctrine. Of course, Ericksen felt that their theories were flawed because they did not have a Mormon background. He would correct their errors [p.193] and thereby win not only the respect of philosophers but the acclaim of his people.
At Chicago Ericksen’s Mormonism branched out to encompass modern biblical studies, social and biological evolution, pragmatic philosophy, and progressive social thought. This growth required some personal adjustment, most notably in abandoning his scriptural literalism, but Ericksen’s continued involvement with other Utah students at Chicago provided emotional support and cultural continuity. His professors’ interest in Mormonism further reinforced his sense of mission.
Ericksen’s initial decision to major in philosophy and minor in economics followed a traditional pattern. Most nineteenth-century American colleges and universities employed at least one professor of Christian morals and political economy. Such cross-disciplinary specialists were called philosophers. They “inculcated the old medieval principle that social, economic, and political theory is properly a branch of Christian ethics” (Ahlstrom, 787). Ericksen, a son of Mormon “theodemocracy,” felt at home in such an environment.
When John Dewey (1859-1952) became head of Chicago’s department of philosophy, psychology, and pedagogy (in 1904), pragmatism became the university’s philosophical method. Dewey was the successor of William James (1842-1910), who formulated American pragmatism. Pragmatism was “a philosophy of expedience. It put ideas to work and judged them by their results.… It assumed that men could direct their spiritual as they did their political destinies; it overthrew the tyranny of philosophical authoritarianism and substituted the democracy of popular representation.” It was “an adventurous philosophy … drenched with optimism” (Commager, 95-96).
Dewey was more public-minded than James. To him truth was what worked for the group, not merely for the individual. Real progress was achieved only by cooperative action. Morality was social, not individual. [p.194] He formed alliances with science, politics, education, and the arts to advance humane ends. He became
the guide, the mentor, and the conscience of the American people: it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that for a generation no major issue was clarified until Dewey had spoken. Pioneer in educational reform, organizer of political parties, counselor to statesmen, champion of labor, of women’s rights, of peace, of civil liberties … he was the spearhead of a dozen movements, the leader of a score of crusades, the advocate of a hundred reforms.…
More fully than any other philosopher of modern times, Dewey put philosophy to the service of society (Commager, 99, 100).
In pragmatism Ericksen found an intellectual basis for the communitarian emphasis of his people, a rationale for the heroic sacrifices of his parents, and a criterion by which authoritarian excesses might be critiqued. Dewey would become Ericksen’s patron saint; Dewey’s collaborator and successor at Chicago, James H. Tufts, Ericksen’s mentor.
The religious philosophy current in Chicago was the social gospel, a branch of liberalism which emerged in the 1890s and continued through the 1920s. The movement was led by Walter Rauschenbusch, a New York professor and Baptist minister; Washington Gladden and Josiah Strong, Congregational ministers in Columbus and Cincinnati; and professors Francis Greenwood Peabody at Harvard, Richard T. Ely at Johns Hopkins, and Albion W. Small at Chicago. Though Ericksen makes no explicit mention of social gospel,1 its influence permeates his religious philosophy. Social gospel advocates were theological liberals with an activist stance. Whereas liberals such as Henry Ward Beecher attributed [p.195] poverty to personal indolence, social gospelers crusaded for economic and political reforms. Old orthodoxies had to be reinterpreted in the light of new social conditions. With religion and ethics united, the kingdom of heaven was at hand.
Because of his rural Mormon upbringing, Ericksen may have had some aversion to the evangelically oriented social gospel. Pragmatism was theologically neutral and therefore more amenable to Mormon applications. Nevertheless, in the social gospel agenda Ericksen would have heard echoes of nineteenth-century Mormonism’s Great Basin Kingdom—redistribution of wealth, stewardship, common consent, and cooperative planning; and he would have found in the careers of prominent college professors examples of intellectual rigor and intense commitment to the church as an instrument of social reform.
Ericksen’s first reform opportunity came at the Murdock Academy, where he attempted to inculcate farmers and future homemakers of southern Utah with the “gospel of education.” After making some headway there, he returned to Chicago in 1918 to complete his Ph.D. studies, focusing his thesis more specifically on the ethical and intellectual challenges faced by the twentieth-century Mormon church.
By modern standards Ericksen’s thesis is judgmental and prescriptive, but by the academic standards of its day, such conclusions were not only acceptable but normative. Philosophy was the domain of Christian ethics, which was prescriptive as well as descriptive, critical as well as analytical.
Ericksen suggested that Joseph Smith, embodying the spirit of his people, “was not only a prophet for them but was made a prophet by them.” He was inspired by the group “and in return reflected its life in such a way as to give it restimulation” (p. 28). Smith’s “spiritually minded … emotional, inspirational, and impulsive” leadership served his people well during religious crisis and social turmoil. Following his [p.196] death, Mormons were confronted by a second challenge, the harsh natural environment of the Great Basin, a challenge brilliantly met by the “common sense and … deliberative foresight” of Brigham Young (p. 36).
Ericksen found that the group life of Mormonism’s first generation was characterized by activity and excitement, strife and stress, strong emotions and spiritual manifestations. The second generation lived on the sentiments and traditions of the first. Both were “unreflective,” living “in a world of sentiment.” The third generation included philosophers or theologians with a medieval intellectual approach, “whose group sentiments are still strong enough to determine their thinking. They have a feeling that Mormonism must be right and they set themselves the task to prove it.”2 These apologists were spawning a generation of scientists who were “placing the institutions of their fathers on the dissecting table for analysis. This class is making a demand for greater freedom of thought and discussion and it is this demand which is bringing about a third Mormon crisis.” Whereas the first two challenges were external and inspired group solidarity, the present challenge was “destructive to group life.… So long as the people were engaged with a common enemy the individuals were easily controlled by the authority of the priesthood but when the outer problems failed to demand the attention of the individuals they began to look into their own institutional life” (pp. 59-60).
[p.197] The critics began with the Godbeite movement in the 1870s, followed in the early twentieth century by eastern-educated professors employed in church schools. Their controversial views stimulated young minds but roused the ire of the orthodox. The professors were dismissed or forced to resign with “the unfortunate effect of stimulating hypocrisy among young college men and women. Young teachers hesitated to express themselves on important matters of scientific and sociological value for fear of losing their positions and receiving the boycott of the church.” Nevertheless, “young people are beginning to feel a power within themselves to discover truth, to analyze and evaluate principles of doctrine. [In church and state schools] they are taught the importance of democracy and the advantages of placing in the hands of the people the right to make and change social institutions as conditions demand” (pp. 62-65).
In succeeding pages Ericksen attacked inequity in the tithing system, oligarchical control of church revenues, and business ventures aimed at enriching church coffers rather than promoting social welfare (pp. 66-72). He discussed the turmoil caused by the way in which the church abandoned polygamy (pp. 73-79). And he analyzed Mormon ethics, which he characterized as “group loyalty” in the first period, “utilitarian objectives” in the second, “faith in church dogma” in the third (pp. 80-93).
Third-generation leadership was weak and defensive. Brigham Young could command, but Joseph F. Smith could only advise and counsel. Reforms were no longer initiated by ecclesiastical leaders but by younger men and women in subordinate positions. In the first generation God called his elect; in the second, he delivered them from persecution; in the third, he became the law giver, the defender of the priesthood and sacred institutions (pp. 93-95).
In the final chapter of his thesis, Ericksen noted the obstacles to an enlightened resolution of the crisis, then presented his recommendations. “The sameness of thought and expression” in contemporary [p.198] Mormon sermons, he said, “becomes so monotonous that the most sympathetic member indicates weariness. But the majority of the people favor harmony rather than discord,” making criticism difficult.3 Moreover, “group consciousness accompanied by great emotional excitement has created strong Mormon sentiments toward the past and its accumulations of institutions so that it is difficult to direct attention upon present-day problems.” Finally, old institutions and traditions were well fortified by books, pamphlets, and theological classes prepared by scholastics with the sole purpose of justifying Mormon dogma.
Rather than attack the problems head-on, Ericksen noted that reformers were shifting away from abstract theological speculation and recitations of Mormon origins to “the more vital problems” of the present. The most promising arena was in the rapidly growing high schools and colleges, where classes in sociology, economics, political science, ethics, psychology of religion, and modern biblical studies “raise the main questions of conflict and point the way of adjustment.”
But analysis and criticism alone “creates friction and results in the loss of energy.” Therefore,
If the youth of Mormonism remain content with the mere rationalization and criticism of their inherited institutions, nothing worthwhile will be accomplished; they will end where they began, in mere reflection. What [p.199] Mormonism needs today is the vitalization of its institutions, which need to be put into use rather than merely contemplated. They should function as means rather than be analyzed as ends. When Mormonism finds more glory in working out new social ideals than in the contemplating of past achievements or the beauty of its own theological system, it will begin to feel its old-time strength. The group spirit will reappear in a new form (pp. 98-99).
His teaching position in philosophy at the University of Utah (1915-48) provided Ericksen a continuing forum from which he could lobby for “new social ideals.” Ericksen taught logic, social ethics, and moral development in the race. The latter was “a genetic treatment of moral conduct; the moral standards of primitive tribes and of ancient and modern civilized nations with emphasis upon the explanation of the standards in relation to their determining factors.” Only three other philosophy classes were taught at the university during these years—citizenship, political ethics, and introduction to philosophy—all by Milton Bennion.
Despite his well-known views, Ephraim was called to the YMMIA General Board in May 1922, and his dissertation was published in September, much to the dismay of John A. Widtsoe. Nevertheless, Ericksen was asked to head the joint YM-YLMIA Recreation Committee and to fill numerous speaking assignments.
On one occasion in the 1920s, when Ericksen spoke in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, his remarks were reported under the heading, “Modern Religion Is Not Fitted to World Need, Says Speaker.”4 Modern[p.200] religion was too theological to meet people’s needs, he said. “Religion must have two aspects, the inner, a faith in the spiritual control of life, and the outer, which enters actively and vitally into the great ideals of the race.…
A misunderstanding of faith has made really religious people think they lacked faith, and has likewise made people with a show of piety think they were religious.” True religion, he maintained,
must be one which teaches that God speaks through the great men of the world, whether they be scientists, statesmen or religious leaders.
He said that all men such as Socrates, Plato and Darwin, who gave their best for the public welfare were indeed religious men, and should be classed with the prophets of the Bible.
He concluded by expressing his gratitude for being a member of a church “which had faith in education and science.”
Ericksen’s 14 November 1926 address to the Ogden Community Forum was reported the next day on the front page of the Ogden Standard Examiner under the headline, “Church Must Adjust Self, Speaker Says.” Coincidentally sharing the page was a report of Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith’s stake conference address under the heading, “Apostle Smith Takes Stand for Church’s Fundamentals.” In his address, Ericksen traced four stages of development “through which all religion passes.” In the mythological stage simple beliefs are expressed in story form, as in the biblical account of the Creation. “Today the theory of evolution of moral standards takes the place of the Adam and Eve story, and we believe that moral values have come out of the earth and grown upward.” Ritual and ceremony characterize the theological stage, while the third stage, mysticism, focuses on “worship of an inner life, a spiritual life, and a feeling which sets men apart from the world.” In the final stage, democratic society, “service of man takes the place of service of God.” Modern religion, Ericksen announced, consists of “faith in the spiritual [p.201] and purposeful control of life” and active participation in “the uplift of human values.” The church, he insisted, must adjust to a scientific, democratic world.
Joseph Fielding Smith, on the other hand, reiterated the important “fundamental” beliefs of the church: Adam and the Fall, the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and baptism for the remission of sins. He staunchly defended the doctrine of the baptism of the earth by the Flood and the future baptism of fire, the story of Jonah and the whale, Joshua commanding the sun and moon to stand still, and the dividing of the Red Sea. He declared “the world is full of teachings in the name of science, art and education that are false, but by the light of the Holy Ghost men will be able to know and understand that which is of God and that which [is] of man” (pp. 1-2).
Despite such obvious differences with church hierarchy, Ericksen continued to function on the YMMIA board with increasingly important assignments until 1934. Following his release from the board he was called to teach the high priests group of his home congregation, the University Ward.
He also continued to crusade on the university campus. In his 1937 text Social Ethics, the chapter on “Religion and the Moral Life” described religion’s power to inspire moral behavior:
To ignore religion is to neglect perhaps the most important single element of the ethical life.… The moral life as a creative process expresses itself in its highest and truest form when its ideals are religiously inspired, when its values are motivated by the religious impulse. Thus quickened, morality becomes in addition to the observation and evaluation of standards, an ideal to which man devotes himself, heart and soul. Moral objectives become sacred imperatives; the voice of God speaks! The religious spirit is the spirit of moral enthusiasm. “And the true meaning of religion is thus, not [p.202] simply morality, but morality touched by emotion” [Matthew Arnold] (p. 279).
Without a religious element, “morality lacks emotional enthusiasm, whole-heartedness, and true devotion. It tends to become individualistic and temporary, enduring social loyalties yielding to mere expediency” (p. 280).
Ericksen believed that religion stemmed from psychological and sociological needs and was not a divinely revealed institution. Much of what passed for revealed religion was merely vestiges of primitive superstition, and religion could not attain its highest moral expression until it discarded its primitive elements. The very idea of God arose “in the awesome regard of the primitive mind for the striking phenomena of nature.” But in time “primitive peoples learned the futility of worshipping physical objects and ceased to expect them to yield to human supplication.” Then came “the dawning perception that there are spiritual powers and emotions in man himself that can transform the world … the discovery that love begets love, that human effort supported by knowledge and good will can do for the race what an importuned deity has long failed to do.” That was the real revelation, “the discovery of the powerful forces of human nature as exhibited in the experience of the race” (pp. 282-83).
Ericksen found such an enlightened view of religion and the moral life in the teachings of Zoroaster and Jesus, Plato, and Confucius. Modern science and social democracy placed new demands on religion, resulting in “a vast broadening of its meaning and function. Conventional religion has too often been thought of in terms of tenets, churches, and preachers. It has found its finest expression in Sabbath observances, cloistered devotion, and in spiritual detachment from the world of affairs.” Modern religion, “instead of offering a prescription for the avoidance of evil, or a formula for entering heaven,” offers “an instrument for moral [p.203] conquest.” In the struggle for moral life, humanity “must either seek [its] salvation in daily and cooperative action, or find it not at all. Religion is a crusade, not a consolation” (pp. 283, 286-87).
Ericksen defined religion as “a way of living, expressed on the inner side as faith in the spiritual or purposive control of life, and on the outer, or social side, as active participation in the promotion of the highest human values” (emphasis in original). Creeds and emphasis on other-worldly salvation were “sterile and unfruitful.” While he conceded that “there may be spiritual powers which man does not comprehend and over which he has no control,” Ericksen insisted that surrender to or dependence on such unknown powers “can only result in moral chaos and spiritual bewilderment.” The modern church “need not change its objective; but it must abandon some of its traditional views on the means of attainment…. It must appropriate, as its very own, all of the facilities of art, science, literature, and education; for aloofness and estrangement from the inevitable agencies of social change can only defeat the avowed aims and ideals of a life religiously inspired” (pp. 287, 289).
Such heretical attitudes institutionalized in the very heart of the Mormon zion were dangerous. A little over a year after the publication of Social Ethics, J. Reuben Clark of the First Presidency spoke to seminary, institute, and church school teachers. The full text of his address was published in the Church Section of the Deseret News under the headline: “First Presidency Sets Standards for Church Educators.”
Clark proclaimed the “positive facts” which “must all be honestly believed, in full faith, by every member of the Church.” They were: belief in Jesus Christ as the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh and his bodily resurrection; the literal appearance of the Father and Son to Joseph Smith; the restoration of the Gospel and the Priesthood; and continuing revelation to succeeding presidents of the church.
[p.204] These facts also, and each of them, together with all things necessarily implied therein or flowing therefrom, must stand, unchanged, unmodified, without dilution, excuse, apology, or avoidance; they may not be explained away or submerged.… Any individual who does not accept the fullness of these doctrines … is not a Latter-Day Saint.
To Clark these were “not to be explained or understood by any process of human reason,” for, “the things of the natural world will not explain the things of the spiritual world.”
Moreover, “to make of the Gospel a mere system of ethics is to confess a lack of faith, if not a disbelief, in the hereafter.… One living, burning, honest testimony … is worth a thousand books and lectures at debasing the Gospel to a system of ethics or seeking to rationalize infinity.” For LDS scholars or scientists, any attempt
to explain away, or misinterpret, or evade or elude, or most of all, to repudiate or to deny, the great fundamental doctrines of the Church in which he professes to believe, is to give the lie to his intellect, to lose his self-respect, to bring sorrow to his friends, to break the hearts and bring shame to his parents, to besmirch the Church and its members, and to forfeit the respect and honor of those whom he has ought, by his course, to win as friends and helpers.…
On more than one occasion our Church members have gone to other places for special training in particular hues; they have had the training which was supposedly the last word, the most modern view, the ne-plus-ultra of up-to-dateness; then they have brought it back and dosed it upon us without any thought as to whether we needed it or not. I refrain from mentioning well-known and, I believe, well-recognized instances of this sort of thing. I do not wish to wound any feelings.
Clark certainly had others in mind besides Ericksen, but when he contraposed “the Gospel” and “ethics,” no one could have been more directly targeted than Ephraim E. Ericksen.
[p.205] Nevertheless, Ericksen continued to teach the high priests until January 1940, following his interview with the stake presidency. Thereafter the University Ward would not call upon his services again.
Apostle John A. Widtsoe renewed the call for orthodoxy in an 8 June 1941 baccalaureate address at the University of Utah, published in the Church Section of the Deseret News on 5 July under the title, “Watchman, What of the Night?” Educated men and women, Widtsoe’s “watch-men on the towers,” had the responsibility “to detect the insidious enemies of man, which usually come as [thieves] in the night, in deceiving sheep’s clothing, with honeyed words or carrying the praises of men.”
“Evil has crept into this blessed land of liberty,” Widtsoe declared. One of them was ethics.
Ethics exists for selfish good. It provides for a smoother and safer life in society; but it does not necessarily take God into account. It does not lift man out of his self-seeking and covetousness, nor does it face him with the need of loving his brother as himself. Ethics and religion are poles apart. The ethical man obeys the law for self-preservation; the religious man because the law represents God’s will for the eternal welfare and the progress of His children on earth. Greatness comes only when men surrender to the divine mandate. Then they approach the likeness of God. That is written on every page of history.
Ericksen did not respond publicly to his critics until his 1954 “W. H. Chamberlin: Pioneer Mormon Philosopher.” After a brief description of the century’s first decade, when church and educational leaders enjoyed harmonious relations, Ericksen set the stage for Chamberlin’s tragic career with an extended critique of Mormon apologists. These “would-be philosophers of the time,” lacking the “critical attitude” requisite for genuine scholarship, assumed that the advance of knowledge was additive rather than revisionist. They
[p.206] seemed unusually willing to transfer the authority which they enjoyed in the fields of their specialization and to make pronouncements with regard to matters wherein they were mere laymen. Concerned with religious implications, but untrained in philosophical criticism, they would philosophize—for no Utah educator at that time could avoid it—by applying the concepts of their fields of specialization to every aspect of life. Geologists [Talmage] functioned with equal authority, seemingly, on matters of evolution and on questions of the higher criticism of the Old Testament. A chemist [Widtsoe] played the roles of biologist and Egyptologist. A historian quarreled with a geologist on the extent and effect of great American earthquakes; but the quarrel was settled quickly by a theologian on the authority of scripture. Physicists [Joseph F. Merrill] and theoretical chemists became authorities in theological speculation.… As high church authorities, these scientists profoundly influenced Mormon thought. Consistent with their background in the physical sciences, a “materialistic” or mechanical theology was popularized. Their religious thinking was “simplified,” but rigid. “They had stronger theological propensities to read ‘right beliefs’ into religion than to develop enlightened ethical principles.” The chemist embraced the anti-evolutionary attitudes of other church leaders, insisting that the only true evolution was “continued development of the individual within the order and according to the laws of its own species.”
Consequently, Ericksen argued, as early as 1910 some of Utah’s leading educators and scientists began to lose interest in theology and church-men began to lose confidence in the “religious integrity” of academics. “The House of Israel was divided, the high loyalties of religion and science were in conflict, thought was confused.”
It was in this setting that W. H. Chamberlin emerged, with training in theology and ancient languages from Harvard and the University of California. Chamberlin described his work as “cutting out dead tissues, or malignant growth from the soul of the individual and the community.” [p.207] He was particularly offended by “scientists turned metaphysicians” who insisted that “intelligence and faith may be a sort of space-filling substance.” Ericksen characterized Chamberlin’s philosophy as “a reasoned statement of the Mormon concept of the spirits of men as co-existent and co-eternal with God” and other Mormon beliefs. Chamberlin’s reward for his critical analyses was to be turned out of Brigham Young University. And although subsequently unable to find full-time employment in the state, he remained loyal to his people. “He was isolated without banishment,” Ericksen concluded,
he was denied the opportunity to communicate with those who could understand and benefit by his message. Reduced to downright poverty, he died like Socrates, who refused to run away, and like Jesus, loving and forgiving.… He had dared to steady the “Ark of the Covenant.” He had introduced into Mormonism a philosophy which, notwithstanding its comprehensive and high ethical quality, was of human origin. In his spiritual realism he attempted to harmonize and integrate the prevailing paradoxes under the more ultimate concepts. He had searched for and found principles that would give adequate recognition to both science and religion. In his judgment this integration should lift Mormonism to a higher level in both practice and philosophy. But ironically his high purpose only spelled his professional downfall. His lifelong devotion to his community and to the cultural heritage of his group only deepened the tragic pathos of his closing years when, like that other saint and scholar, Roger Williams, he found himself a victim of intolerance, rejected by his own.
Though Ericksen had not suffered financially for his views, he no doubt identified with Chamberlin’s devotion to the Mormon people and the intent to “harmonize and integrate” Mormon doctrine with modern scientific principles. In 1956 Ericksen made a brief foray into legal ethics, collaborating with his son Gordon on “Ideological Aspects of the Legal [p.208] Profession,” published in the Journal of Legal Education. Modern lawyers, the Ericksens complained, were hirelings of large corporations, more interested in property than in human rights. The lawyer
has insisted upon immunity from moral questions, while concomitantly holding a position of great public trust.… He is a skilled symbol manipulator, an agent who takes up a cause not because of a conviction, but because of the possibility for social and economic rewards. He observes personal neutrality while working for the cause that pays the most. Yet, these are the very people delegated by society to ask questions about values in congressional, political, diplomatic, and civic circles. They make policies and surveys that prove the positions of their patrons.
Subsequently returning to religious philosophy and ethics, Ericksen prepared “Priesthood and Philosophy,” an address he delivered to the Utah Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Letters in November 1956. Mormon priesthood, he declared,
conceives itself as all embracing in its knowledge, wisdom, righteousness, authority, and power.… In Mormonism today, although the ethical (the prophetic aspects of its religion) has some voice, the “priestly school of thought” is dominant and so stresses ritual that morality would appear to be relatively unimportant. In fact, ethics is sometimes referred to as “merely ethics.”
Contrasting the prophetic and priestly philosophies, Ericksen cited David O. McKay’s Gospel Ideals and Joseph Fielding Smith’s Man, His Origin and Destiny. McKay’s prophetic work “points toward the future and emphasizes ideals that should govern the people in matters of education, social welfare, and moral conduct,” while Smith’s priestly volume “stresses points of doctrine, right beliefs, correct rituals, obedience to the laws of God.” According to Smith, revealed truth is eternal and does [p.209] not require mediation by theories that change from time to time. Scripture and inspired teachings by God’s chosen leaders are sufficient and reliable.
Another priestly leader, J. Reuben Clark, emphasized that Saints were not free to “say to ourselves, nor to one another, that this is the important thing or that is the important thing, the others being nonessential or unessential. We have no right to draw distinctions and differences among the commandments of God.” Thus, Ericksen concluded, priestly philosophy “leaves little room for freedom of choice or for the individual’s own judgment and evaluation. One either obeys the commandment of God (the law) or disobeys it.” It has become “morally right to believe, and morally wrong to doubt”; ethical principles are replaced by religious legalism; scientific effort is discouraged and common sense confused; and there is a tendency to become narrow, exclusive, and unsympathetic of others.
“The Mormon community has priests by the hundreds of thousands,” he concluded, “but few prophets; and with few exceptions, their prophets have been more priestly in their philosophy than prophetic.”
Reaction among colleagues to “Priesthood and Philosophy” was favorable and induced Ericksen to begin work on a book-length manuscript, “Mormonism in Philosophic Perspective.” Drafts of ten chapters were written over six years, but the manuscript remained unfinished. Chapters included “Mormonism and Scripture,” “Nineteenth-Century Prophets,” “Prophecy in Mormon Philosophy,” “The Prophetic Element in Twentieth-Century Mormonism,” and “Utah’s Philosophers in Prophetic Robes.”
A handwritten draft of a chapter on Mormon educators responded to Clark’s 1938 speech. Ericksen feared that the current situation was, like the Godbeite movement of the 1870s and the 1911 BYU evolution controversy, a conflict between authoritarianism and scientific, [p.210] democratic thought. This time, however, “the consequences are not obvious to the public.” Seeking to avoid the publicity of earlier confrontations, the church “has discovered less conspicuous ways of relieving itself of undesirable individuals.” In response, many progressive church educators had adopted a facade of conformity, not only to keep their jobs, but to maintain
the purpose and spirit of true education. And so we have a large number of well trained men continuing to function within the educational system, and suffering the humiliation which their own consciences impose upon them, as well as the criticism that is heaped upon them from members of their own profession who are more fortunately situated.
Ericksen was invited to participate in a January 1959 BYU meeting which featured a 1958 Academy paper by Dr. Kent Fielding, entitled “The Concept of States in Mormon Historical Development,” and Ericksen’s response, “The Hallowed Old and the Promising New in Mormon Philosophy.” Ericksen insisted that
Mormonism is not a body of doctrine, nor is it an association for the promulgation of a body of doctrine; it is a community with its distinctive life values and life problems.…
It is a community in which priests and theological creeds are only elements in a highly complex and diversified system of thoughts, interests, and points of view. It is a religious movement; but one in which the religious orthodoxy of the early twentieth century can hardly be regarded as the fundamental core of its faith. Fundamentalism is not fundamental.
Ericksen explained that early Mormons looked to church leaders for direction in virtually all of their community affairs. Modern Latter-day Saints rarely turn to church leaders in such matters. “And the community is the healthier for it.” Some may not feel such Mormons are “true [p.211] Latter-day Saints,” but they belong, nevertheless; and when they achieve recognition as scientists, men of letters, statesmen, or businessmen, “even the orthodox are ready to claim them as their own.”
Such differences are evidence of diversity rather than disintegration, for Mormons continue to be bound by a common heritage, and perhaps even a common hope for the future. “Such expressions as ‘We are called to build the kingdom of God on earth’ and also such ideas as ‘Zion’ or ‘New Jerusalem’ have a forward look—or could have.… Their meanings need not remain fixed; but should be made functionally significant so as to appeal to all groups within the community.”
Ericksen concluded with an expression of faith that Mormonism will flourish and Zion prosper:
(1) provided that Mormon historians provide reliable factual material in which we may all work, and the psychologists and sociologists furnish adequate conceptual tools with which we may work; (2) provided that the priests, including the high priests, select and conserve worthy spiritual values, and the prophets keep the windows open for more and better light; (3) provided that the people, all the people, speak with conviction: “that the voice of the people is the voice of God”; (4) provided that … the literary prophets of twentieth-century Mormonism be given attention and responsibility equal to that enjoyed by the prophets of ancient Israel; and (5) provided that Mormon missionaries preach the gospel to the world in the spirit of an invitation to join the building of a “world community,” a Zion of the “pure in heart,” of love, justice, truth, and beauty.
Among the indicators of progress, Ericksen saw more critical thinking within the rank and file, more attention to higher criticism of the scriptures among educated laymen, a decline in the emphasis on ritual and the Old Testament, acceptance of “interpretation” of scripture as being as important as “translation,” and recognition of moral and ethical [p.212] principles as essential to orthodoxy. “The priest and the prophet will always be with us, I predict; the one to advance the Promising New and the other to defend the Hallowed Old.… Creative thought in Mormonism is not going to be depressed.”[p.213]
1. Ericksen’s personal library included an extensively underlined copy of Distributive Justice, a 1919 treatise by John A. Ryan, a progressive priest often associated with the social gospel; and Chester C. McCown’s 1929 The Genesis of the Social Gospel.
2. The most obvious candidates for Ericksen’s category of apologetic scholastics were James E. Talmage and John A. Widtsoe. Talmage (1862-1933) had obtained a Ph.D. in geology from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1896, taught geology and chemistry at BYA (1884-88), was president of the LDS College in Salt Lake City (1888-93) and of the University of Utah (1894-97), geologist, and apostle (1911-33). His Articles of Faith had been published in 1899 and Jesus the Christ in 1915. University of Utah President John A. Widtsoe, whose academic training was in chemistry, had published Joseph Smith as a Scientist (1908) and A Rational Theology (1915).
Dr. Talmage is going to visit us next Sunday in Conference. I wonderful [sic] if he will have his usual kind words to speak to me. I shall say nothing to him but if he says a word about me I’ll hand it back to him. I have been quite active in discussions in our Sunday school and some of the Elders may tell him that I do not believe in the Devil and that I am succeeding in getting others to get rid of Lucifer. You know that during the last two Sundays we have spent most of our time honoring the Devil–Giving him a place in the bodies of men and women and [illegible]. Some of the BYU people are with me and others against me. All the elders are against me. If it comes to an issue next Sunday I shall simply refer them to you as authority. For as I understand that is one of your cardinal religious principles is that there ain’t no such animal (13 Aug. 1918).
4. The undated clipping in EFP mentions Axel E. Madsen of the church’s Bureau of Information, presiding, and Edward P. Kimball, assistant tabernacle organist, performing. Madsen, who served with Ericksen on the YMMIA board, was assistant director of the bureau from about 1922 to 1927, according to his son, Gordon Madsen. Edward Kimball was assistant tabernacle organist from 1905 to 1929.