Thoughts on Religion: Ideology versus Theology

First, definitions:
  • Theology is a set of beliefs regarding the relationship between human beings, the universe, and deity.
  • Ideology is the system of ideas surrounding any subject from politics and the environment to unions and religion.
  • Theology is what people think about the universe and deity.
  • Ideology is how people think about what they think.
Actually, this is a Chinese depiction of
Jesus and the rich young man.
  • Theology is about inner systems that lead to behavior/action/culture.
  • Ideology is about how people talk--their rhetoric about what they say they believe.
A parable in the New Testament depicts a young man who refuses to work in his father's vineyard, then changes his mind. The second son states he will go and work, then doesn't. Jesus challenges his listeners, "Which one did the will of his father?" When they answer, "The first," he uses the opportunity to instruct his audience that "tax collectors and prostitutes are entering into the Kingdom of God before you" (Matthew 21:28-32).

I imagine a daughter who says, "I'll give you two hours," then shows up and works for two hours. What astonishes me is how often this solution upsets people. It isn't so much that they want the worker to be the first son--that would make a kind of sense. It is that they want the worker to TALK like the second son.

When Jesus compares the two sons, he is comparing theology to ideology. The first son, Job-like, grapples with what he wants to do and whether he wants to do it and maybe even why--and then does it. The second son says all the right stuff but doesn't bother to show up.

The daughter that I imagined also behaves in accordance with theology; she says, "This is exactly what I believe and this is what I mean to do based on what I believe."

In all scenarios, including Jesus's, the reasoning matters (how a person thinks) while the behavior matters more. And in all scenarios, especially Jesus's, the rhetoric (ideology) by itself is deemed meaningless. Who really cares what someone is saying if the saying is simply a bunch of "right" words?

Bumper stickers are all about ideology.
"Lots of people" is the answer to that question. It unnerves me how often how someone speaks about the economy, the environment, politics, and religion determines others' reactions. For instance, I have occasionally been accused of not being committed or aware enough, not because my behavior differed in any way from that of my accusers, but because I didn't throw out the proper verbiage.

Generally speaking, I dislike doomsdaying rhetoric: arguing that the "end is nigh" and blaming that "end" on the corruptive nature of atheists, fundamentalists, liberals or Republicans. In addition, I try to abstain from hysterical language regarding the so-called moral turpitude of the above groups, Hollywood, secular entertainment, television, etc. etc. etc.
Pete Seeger refused to name names. Eliza Kazan, On the
Waterfront, did and maintained the morality of that decision
his entire life. Acknowledging the deliberate choice by
each man is far more interesting and helpful than
condemning either one on ideological grounds.

The people who rely on such rhetoric often fall back on the moral obligation to CHOOSE a position. In religious terms, this is the "a man with two masters got spewed out of God's mouth" mental framework (and if you think secular, non-religious people never use this language, try talking to, oh, anybody with an axe to grind).

This perspective entirely misses Jesus's point--it is trying to SERVE two masters that causes problems. It is actually impossible to help your dad in his vineyard while you are at the movies watching The Hobbit, which is why the daughter measures out her time (and Hermione gets a time travel device to take more classes). Trying to protect one's career in Hollywood while testifying before a Congressional committee ultimately leads to deep tensions within a person's soul (it can also produce great art, but that's another post for another time).

The point: decisions based on what one believes ultimately lead to actions that serve a particular master, even if that master is oneself. Using rhetoric to argue in favor of a particular master is NOT indicative of an actual position; it is simply indicative of the capacity to argue. For instance . . .
  • Claiming that people who use language that favors evolution are anti-God is not in fact a theological position; it is an ideological one. 
  • Likewise, claiming that "good" people only vote for politicians who preach about "women's rights" is more about ideology than finding a suitable candidate. 
  • Claiming that a religious person should be upset by all the "filth" coming out of Hollywood is an ideological stance. 
  • Stating that everyone who really "cares about our planet" would blame climate change on man-made causes is about as ideological as one can get (especially since I used "climate change" rather than "global warming"). 
On the other hand . . .
  • Claiming that a religious person should not steal from his or her employee is an obvious if sometimes challenging (does that include pens?) moral position that ultimately comes down to theology (although the argument itself is behavioral). 
  • Likewise, claiming that people who worship God people should never vote for anyone who is pro-abortion is an extreme (in my view), highly problematic position in an imperfect world, yet it is in fact moral rather than ideological.
The remainder of this post presents why ideological arguments are ultimately counterproductive and non-moral.

Why: A great many religious and philosophical disciplines rest on the proposition that humans will, if they are not careful, slide back into the mud. Call it the natural man, original sin, the id (and ego), Paglia's dangerous nature, or Stephen King's hungry alligators, what we call civilization--including art, religion, and social order--keeps us reasonably kind and reasonably sane and reasonably able to feed ourselves and others.

I tend to be more optimistic, seeing the physical experience as a gift rather than an experience fraught with incipient dangers. But I cannot deny that I live in a reasonably kind, sane, and safe world. I am the recipient of civilization. And in a bid to keep it going, I credit the separation of emotion/belief from action. We feel/we think--that does not mean we should automatically act. How I carry out my rage or love or confusion or distaste or pleasure relies on a moment by moment series of challenging choices.

In the tension between "real things did really happen" and "but every human has a subjective experience," I present problem-solving as the answer.

Humans are remarkably capable--when they choose to be--at problem-solving. They take context, personalities, beliefs, past experience, and future needs into account. I'm not saying that every time we express ourselves, we actively think, "Ah, I am now sorting through all the variables!" Truth: the brain is quite ready and willing to sort through these variables on a continual basis. It wants us to survive.
I don't actually believe this--but it's better than the usual
type of bumper sticker.

So I don't respond the same way to the police officer who stops my car as I would to my boyfriend or my best friend. I don't speak to a co-worker the same way I speak to my cats (arguably the entire world would be nicer and easier to manage if I did . . . but no). I don't (usually) start arguments in situations that could hurt me later. And I do try to remember to say, "Thank you" when I know it might please the other person and also to convey something of my inward feelings.

Do I make judicious judgements every time? No. Have I sabotaged my own best interests in work meetings? Uh, yeah. Do I have the capacity to judge a new scenario better? Absolutely! Will I? Maybe.

The point is, the brain is geared to do this. Consequently, I argued in a prior post for the need to maintain different methodologies/understandings in one's head at the same time. The more tools I have at my disposal, the more likely I am to problem-solve intelligently. Or at least in my best interest. At most to a moral end.

Problem-solving eschews rhetoric.

To shortchanged this operation--to throw out problem-solving in the belief that an ideological stance is enough to ensure moral behavior--is, in my mind, highly immoral. To substitute, "Okay, in this situation, how do I handle this particular issue/disagreement/event/person?" with "But this is the way I talk about the bad people" indicates a loss of integrity.

Ideology is the refuge of debate without soul.

And yes, that's simply a nice piece of rhetoric :)

Thoughts on Religion: The Lousy Equation of Faith and Proof

Religion is about faith, not proof. There is a fundamental difference between believing in something based on an invisible/unknown/indeterminate quality and trusting in something because it underwent multiple testing in a lab.

The Puritans in Salem learned the hard way that accusing people of a crime based on nothing more than "my personal deep feelings"--not matter how spiritually described or felt--is a terrible idea. And it was Puritan ministers who questioned the validity of the accusations: without tangible proof, how do we know what really happened?

On the other hand, a smart, questioning atheist like Camille Paglia extols the power of religion to stave off the dark, arguing that a positive affirmation in deity, art, and the value of life far outstretches--transcends--the most stringent, academic theorizing. Humans are drawn to religion and art and non-provable experiences because they speak to something "other" within us and, possibly, outside of us. 

Yet people on both sides of the faith/science equation continue to insist on "proving" or "disproving" religious truths; "proving" or "disproving" doubt--sometimes to bizarre extremes. And it almost always backfires into disillusionment.

"Proving" or "disproving" the religious perspective has nothing to do with faith. It almost always results in reliance on "points" that are largely immaterial. Getting defensive in the face of scholarship or archaeology or theories like evolution does not strengthen the religious mind; it hampers it. Likewise, feeling threatened by beliefs in deity creates scientists and academics who develop odd blind spots and consequently end up missing the larger context of many issues. 

Case in point: every year or so, the History channel or National Geographic or Time magazine will present historical/environmental explanations for events in the Bible. For example, some archaeologists/historians hypothesize that Moses arrived at the Red Sea during a particular season when strong winds blew a path through the connected Sea of Reeds, allowing the Israelites to safely cross. Inevitably, some (not all) skeptics will use the opportunity to crow about the invalidity of religion. Equally inevitably, some (not all) religious people will feel it necessary to wall themselves behind a protective bulwark, claiming that scholarship is specious, anti-religious, and denigrating.

And the rather pointless argument continues.  

From a faith-based perspective, it is entirely unnecessary and peremptory to pooh-pooh the "Sea of Reeds" explanation. I suppose Charlton Heston tends to stick in the brain, but a faith-based belief in a safe crossing across muddy, reedy waters at just the right time of year strikes me as equally miraculous, if not more so.

From a historian's perspective, Bible scholarship is a legitimate discipline. It admittedly contains its own degrees of defensiveness. But it is neither intrinsically atheistic nor intrinsically evil. It relies on a different methodology than faith--and must if historians are going to be trusted within their own discipline: reliance on sources is the point.

I often find such scholarship cool, interesting, even fascinating if one will allow a Spock moment. I don't start questioning everything I've ever thought because everything I ever thought doesn't ride on the scholars being right--or wrong.

Keep in mind, I am not arguing that faith means, "I believe this no matter what anyone says!" I am arguing something more basic: the disciplines of faith and scholarship do not need to be treated as either/ors. Believing everything people say is a logical fallacy (ad populum) and not a terribly intelligent way to deal with data. Along the same lines, disbelieving whatever people say is simply a variation on that theme.

In a future post, I will address the extraordinary capacity of humans to problem-solve by not confusing "feeling" with "method." Suffice to say for now, one type of understanding does not automatically cancel out the other, no matter what academics steeped in theories about dominant this-and-that try to tell you. It is possible to see the world as more complicated than one-winner-takes-all (i.e., one should only think like this).

I sometimes find scholarship (on any topic) woefully inadequate according to its own standards. I have also often found it helpful to my faith. Several decent scholars have recently written about Paul. They have taken issue with some of the letters (as being authored by him) and with the relation of events in Acts. In keeping with their methodology as honest historians, they utilize the primary texts/letters they are sure of to reconstruct their understanding of Paul's personality, journeys, and relationships. They carefully show that this man did exist, did write letters, and did extensively journey while making great sacrifices of time and energy. They also place a large amount of his commentary in context.

I come away enlarged: Paul is no longer a symbolic scriptural character or an untouchable commodity. He is a person who truly lived: flawed, passionate, committed, erudite, faithful, and--here's that word again!--fascinating.

If I turned my reaction into a defense-against-a-threat, I would miss out. Consequently, in my thesis, I mention that I can appreciate the Nativity Story for its literary appeal; I also can wrap my faith around it; I also can acknowledge that there is no proof for the story in any empirical sense. Along the same lines, the story of Exodus as detailed in the Old Testament (I am using Christian terminology); archaeologists' and historians' theory of the Sea of Reeds; even Prince of Egypt--easily and successfully reside in my brain next to each other.

Unfortunately, doing this--or admitting to doing this (allowing different methodologies/understandings to exist next to each other)--upsets a surprising number of people on both sides of the religion/science equation. There is this insistence that a person *must* choose. And that failure to choose puts someone like myself irrevocably in one camp or the other (depending on to whom I am speaking) or "outside the pale" entirely. But to choose is to instantly confuse faith with data. To throw out one or the other almost always results in ideology, rather than theology or science. Bad theology and corrupted science are the inevitable results.

Faith has its own role: it is belief, hope, trust, a gleeful acceptance of transcendence, wonder, even doubt and questioning--without descent into ridicule, cynicism, disillusionment, or dogma. Research has its own role and when done properly is held to fierce standards of honesty, propriety, and big-picture understanding. 

War from either side results is nothing constructive. 

Raw Personal Histories: Mark, Paul, and Joseph Smith

One of the reasons that conspiracy theories flourish is that humans have a hard time with incompleteness. In Numb3rs, Charlie points out that humans tend to replace mathematical randomness with deterministic patterns that only appear random. As Science Daily states, "The brain doesn't like visual gaps."

This unease with incompleteness extends to other areas of our lives. My personal theory is that this need to "finish" the puzzle is a survival mechanism, a way of ordering the world, no matter how uncooperative it proves to be. 

Unfortunately for the brain, information about the world is often incomplete, uncertain, lacking corroborative details. Primary evidence specifically is the opposite of complete, tidy, detailed. In the moment of relating a fresh experience, people fail to realize that they are supposed to be providing context, countering possible arguments, underscoring their experience with precise descriptions. They are vague, making allusions and references without explanation. They can also be surprisingly cagey.

Hence the reason translation is such a difficult process--and why writing historical fiction (from a contemporary perspective) never sounds exactly the same as the fiction written during that history: Jane Austen never explains herself. 

The following examples are not meant to answer questions of faith. Faith and evidence will be dealt with in another post. They are, rather, meant to reveal a similar quality regarding primary evidence and spiritual experiences. (Keep in mind that these men believed their experiences, whatever others might think.)
In the earliest of the gospels, the Gospel of Mark, Mark or someone interviewing Mark (there is no evidence to the contrary) breaks off in Chapter 16 after presenting the reality of the empty tomb. The chapter resumes with scriptures that were possibly--though not conclusively--added later.

In his letters, the Apostle Paul twice details his vision, the Damascene Conversion, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and in Galatians 1:11-16. In both cases, he is brief, detailing only enough of his experience to prove a point to the fellow believers to whom he is writing.

Joseph Smith's 1832 written account of his First Vision focuses almost entirely on what he was told in the vision rather than on context and details.
In all three cases, later accounts flesh out the original. And here's where a good historian (and a non-conspiracy theorist) acknowledges that fleshing out after the fact is perfectly normal--it is not indicative of some dark agenda or desire to deceive. After all, we do this with our own lives all the time: we look back and see connections that weren't apparent to us in the moment. I have written short stories that were obviously dealing with an issue in my personal life--nothing terribly profound, merely something that was bothering me at the time--yet I didn't "see" what I was doing until months or years after the time of writing.

A good historian (and non-conspiracy theorist) rather than proclaiming disillusionment will try to balance various accounts, starting with the inconclusive, vague and difficult-to-decipher primary evidence. Later, the scholar may add in or consider later accounts since later accounts may include information and even accuracies lacking from the primary accounts (Agatha Christie argues this possibility in several of her mysteries--over time, clues not apparent at the time rise to the surface). The entire process involves discernment, honesty to the principles of research, and recognition of how little humans in fact comprehend about the past.

What strikes me about the above three accounts is that whatever the men experienced struck them as so profound and untellable, they felt the need to keep the knowledge and details to themselves. I'm afraid that I don't see this in theological terms (though some scholars do). I see it in purely human ones. It makes perfect sense to me that someone like Mark would pull back at the awe and heart-wrenching relief of the Resurrection, only returning to the event when other oral versions had entered every-day discourse; that Paul would be reluctant to boast about such a seminal experience regarding his chosen and transformative path; that Joseph Smith would focus his attention on what he--in the moment--thought most important to his understanding of religion and God.

True histories do not in fact anticipate questions, concerns, debates, criticisms, nitpicking, or the need to compete with other versions--not even to relieve doubt.

This happened to me, and this is what I got out of it! is the primary concern. How that information (data) is handled in terms of faith and in terms of evidence is a topic for another post. Suffice to say for now, tackling incomplete histories as some kind of personal insult ("How dare it not be exactly the version I demand for proof!") is poor scholarship and indicates a naïve understanding of the world.

Church Talk: Jesus and Paul

I gave this talk May 21, 2017. It is my (positive) rebuttal to religious arguments that focus (instead) on legalities and rules, obedience and dogma.

As described in the talk, I read through the Gospel of Mark first, focusing on what Jesus did; then again, focusing on what he said (I used the King James translation, red letter edition, online--the web is an amazing thing). I approached the project with a surprising number of uneasy expectations (you'd think a person who taught seminary would remember better) and finished with most of those expectations gratifyingly overturned.

The three consistent messages from Jesus in Mark (and for that matter, across the four gospels) are "I am the Son of God," "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (many debates on what exactly this means since Jesus seemed to perceive it not as a future event but as something that was being created with his ministry and later with his Resurrection), and "Try to be good and kind in a way that goes beyond mere lip-service" ("goodness" is both a more generous and--let's be real--ballsy thing than the word sometimes implies).

There's very little about rules for the sake of rules. What's even cooler is how much the Jesus described in Mark--the most action-based of the gospels--practices what He preaches. My own written list of Things Jesus Did is far longer than the items I selected for the talk.

In reference to the talk's context, I've always had a soft-spot for Paul, mostly for being such a complicated guy--besides which, David Suchet would like to play him :)

2nd Corinthians 3:3: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
2nd Corinthians is a letter or group of letters written by the Apostle Paul to members of the church in Corinth, Greece. He previously wrote a letter of rebuke to the Corinthians for infighting: they were engaging in “debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults” (2 Corinthians 12:20). So things were pretty bad! Paul had also visited Corinth recently, and some members had challenged his authority; in Second Corinthians, he is stating that he doesn’t need letters of recommendation to uphold his authority or to prove himself. The Saints, the members, are his recommendations.

A letter of recommendation is used when someone applies for a position. The person writing the letter will praise the prospective employee’s character, virtues, and abilities.
POSSIBLE ADDITION BASED ON TIME—NOT INCLUDED: I am sometimes asked to write letters of recommendation for students, either for a job or for a scholarship or for an academic program to which they are applying. I use what I know of the students to write my recommendations—I reference how often they attended class; whether they were on time; whether they handed in their work. I use past behavior to suggest how these students will behave in the future. If I needed a letter of recommendation, and I wanted to behave like Paul, I would also refer to my students’ behavior in the classroom. Their behavior would decide whether or not I was a good teacher. This is a scary thought! Yet this is exactly what Paul is doing.
In Second Corinthians, Paul is saying that he doesn’t need outsiders to defend his character. He’ll know that he succeeded in teaching the gospel when he sees members practicing Christ-like behavior. When the Spirit of God is written on their hearts, they will become letters of Christ. A modernized version of this would be that when the Spirit of God is written on their hearts, they will become websites of Christ: that is, what they have in their hearts will show up where people can see.

Paul wants the members to have a loving attitude towards each other, an attitude that comes from the inside—he wants them to naturally wish the best for each other. In essence, he wants them to behave as described in First Corinthians 13.

I will read First Corinthians 13 in the original King James version, which is very beautiful, and then in the King James modernized version:
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth:

Love is patient, kind, not jealous, does not brag, is not arrogant, does not behave rudely, does not demand its own way, is not easily angered, keeps no grudges, does not rejoice in wrong but in truth and right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
Another word for what Paul is describing is a great vocabulary word: magnanimity. Magnanimity is sometimes defined as “generosity of spirit” or “bigness of heart.” It is all encompassing.

In this last General Conference, Elder Robert D. Hales discusses this idea of being Christ-like or magnanimous:
The attributes of the Savior, as we perceive them, are not a script to be followed or list to be checked off. They are interwoven characteristics, added one to another, which develop in us in interactive ways. In other words, we cannot obtain one Christlike characteristic without also obtaining and influencing others. As one characteristic becomes strong, so do many more.
Goodness then is about internal integrity—not just outward behavior. Goodness is a way of being.

This can be difficult, not to say overwhelming! I know I am not always as good and kind as I would like to be. I struggle with how much better I should be. How do we become completely good/kind people in our hearts, not only our actions?

It comes down to a grammar or logic issue—an if-then statement. If one thing is true, then another thing must also be true.

The scriptures are full of if-then statements. If you love God . . . then . . .

Sometimes we get caught up on the “then”—we try to force it to happen. We need to back up to the “if.”

In Mosiah 4, for example, King Benjamin states, “If ye have known of [God’s] goodness and have tasted of his love and [felt the joy of God’s forgiveness] . . . then . . .” the following happens:
Ye shall grow in knowledge,
Ye shall not wish to hurt others,
Ye shall be kind to your children and teach them to love,
Ye shall be generous and forgiving.
All these behaviors and attitudes result from loving God. Jesus affirms this truth in Mark 12. When questioned, “Which commandment is the most important?” he answered that the most important, the place to start, is to “love the Lord thy God with all [our] hearts and souls and minds.”

To return to the Corinthians, Paul hoped to help the Corinthian congregation by having them adopt a more generous way of thinking and being. And he wanted them to do this by emulating Christ. Jesus and also King Benjamin tell us that the first step to emulating Christ is to love Heavenly Father.

How do we do that? How do we love Heavenly Father so completely that He and Christ will be inscribed on our hearts? I have three suggestions:

1. Accept God’s love. It seems an obvious thing to do. But we sometimes don’t do it because we “get in our own way” or sabotage ourselves.

A writer of religion, Philip Yancey, discusses the greatness of Apostle Peter by comparing him to Judas Iscariot. Both Judas and Peter betrayed Jesus—Judas did it deliberately for money; Peter did it impetuously out of fear. However, on the cross, Jesus forgave all those who betrayed him. The difference between the men is that Peter did not reject that forgiveness and love. He turned back to Christ.

2. Show gratitude. Like me, you may find comparing yourself to Peter, an Apostle and Head of the Church, a little daunting. A more everyday example of someone that I can relate to is the 10th leper.

Jesus cured 10 lepers. Luke 17 tells us, “And when [Jesus] saw them, he said unto them, ‘Go shew yourselves unto the priests.’ And it came to pass that as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God. And fell down on his face at [Jesus’s] feet, giving him thanks . . . And Jesus said unto him, ‘Arise, go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole’” (14-16).

Jesus didn’t remove the cure from the other 9—the scriptures make it clear that “they were cleansed.” They all received his love. The 10th turned back and accepted that love by thanking God. His gratitude, his faith and love, made him whole—more than simply in the physical sense.

Gratitude is a powerful attribute. In Sunbeams, the class for the 3 to 4-year-olds, we—the students and the teachers—learn to thank God for water, fish, prayer, our bodies, families, and of course, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Gratitude is a way to accept God’s love and to “know of his goodness.”

3. As well as acceptance and gratitude, we can love God by learning about Him—the best way to learn about God is to learn about His Son, Jesus Christ.

I recently had a wonderful experience where I went through the Gospel of Mark twice. First, I looked at only Jesus’s behavior—then I went back and read what Jesus said.

I discovered, first, that Jesus did AMAZING things during his ministry:
• He was happy for other people’s happiness—he enjoyed their enjoyment, such as when he attended the Wedding at Cana.
• He willingly spent time with and was interested in everyone from fishermen to intellectuals, children, the poor, the wealthy, the middle class, outsiders, military leaders, even tax collectors!
• I find it personally encouraging that he inspired women. Dorothy Sayers wrote:
“It is no wonder that women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. [Jesus was] a prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, who never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious.”
• As Sayers mentions, Jesus was entirely self-aware and self-confident. Early in his ministry, he gave up being a “celebrity” when he resisted Satan’s temptations. He wasn’t concerned with how he looked or what others thought of him.
• He was practical as when he fed people who had come to hear him speak (unmentioned in my talk: this extremely astute handling of a potentially unruly mob prevented a riot).
• He was introverted and extroverted. Sometimes, he spent time alone; sometimes, he took his apostles away on “retreats.” He taught people one-on-one and adjusted his teaching to their circumstances. He also enjoyed social activities and was capable of handling large crowds.
• And he performed miracles in many different ways—sometimes at a distance; sometimes up close; sometimes with words; sometimes with actions and words.
We are not perfect like Jesus, so we may not be able to deal with people and situations as variously as he did. I think he approached people and events in so many ways as an example to the different kinds of people that we are. If I need an example of how to be kind or how to deal with others that fits my personality, I can find it in the gospels.

The foundation of all Jesus’s behavior is love. This last General Conference, Elder S. Mark Palmer gave a talk about the rich, young man who asks Jesus what he needs to do to obtain eternal life. Jesus instructs him to follow the commandments. The young man says he has kept them all.

I confess—at this point in the conversation, I would roll my eyes. Really? You’ve kept ALL the commandments?

Jesus didn’t roll his eyes. As Elder Palmer reminds us, “Then Jesus beholding him loved him.” ("To my astonishment, I instead heard six words before that part of the verse [about following Jesus] that I seemed never to have heard or read before.")

Jesus’s love is echoed in the things that he said, specifically in the Sermon on the Mount.

The Sermon on the Mount seems radical. Am I truly supposed to not complain when someone “shall smite [me] on the right cheek”? I have to admit, I would complain!

It helps to realize that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is deliberately pushing the commandments, such as forgiving one’s neighbor, to the furthest degree—NOT in order to make the commandments more legalistic but to make the point that kindness and goodness should match what is in our hearts. We should actually wish to get along with our neighbors, not simply hope they stay off our lawns. We should actually try to forgive our enemies, not make token statements about how nice it is to love everybody.

The scriptures assert that we can come to love God through accepting His love, showing gratitude, and learning more about His Son, Jesus Christ. We then become better people because we wish to be better people. In the book The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck writes, “When we love something, it is of value to us, and when something is of value to us, we spend time with it, time enjoying it and time taking care of it. Observe a [gardener] with a beloved rose garden, and the time spent pruning and mulching and fertilizing and studying it.”

I get a kick out of Peck’s analogy. I am not a gardener myself, but my parents are. They moved a year ago to a new, smaller home. Already their new home has a big garden. As the weather warms, they spend more and more time outside, digging up stumps, expanding the flower beds, and watering the shrubs. Their yard is flourishing and looks quite unlike everyone else’s in their cul-de-sac. It is obvious who the real gardeners in the neighborhood are. An if/then statement for my parents would be: If you really love gardening, you shall have beautiful and healthy plants to look at all day long.

When we spend time loving God and Jesus Christ, who witnesses to us of God’s love, we begin to fulfill Paul’s instruction to write Christ into our hearts. We also begin to fulfill the first part of the if/then statement from Mosiah: If we know of God’s love...we shall improve...

A wonderful example of a big-hearted person who became better out of love is Zacchaeus. He heard about Jesus and was quite excited to see him. Unfortunately, there was a large crowd and Zacchaeus wasn’t very tall—I can relate!—so he climbed up into a tree. When Jesus “came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, ‘Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house.’ And [Zacchaeus] made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.” After they ate, Zacchaeus stood up without prompting and announced, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” (Luke 19:5-6, 8).

This is one of the passages where Jesus refers to finding those who are lost. So an outcome of loving God is not only becoming a better person but being found (I am here).

In Second Corinthians, Paul adds another outcome of loving God: we shall have “such trust . . . through Christ to God-ward” that we will be “troubled yet not distressed” (2 Corinthians 3:4, 4:8). I love the practicality of that last line! Paul doesn’t say, “Your life will be perfect.” He says, “You will be troubled yet not distressed.”

Paul wanted the Saints in Corinth to not be distressed. He wanted them to get along. He wanted them to stop arguing about status and to stop challenging each other. He wanted them to behave like Christ, not only for the sake of each other but for their individual sakes—so they could each feel more peace. That peace starts with loving God.

Remember the 10th leper. The moment he was healed, he thought not of all the places he could go or even of all the people he could hang out with. I’m sure he thought of those positive things later! But immediately, right away, he thought of glorifying God and thanking Jesus Christ.
NOT INCLUDED IN THE TALK DUE TO TIME (AND BECAUSE IT IS KIND OF A TALK IN ITS OWN RIGHT): Loving God doesn’t mean defending God--He frankly doesn’t need us to defend Him--or forcing people to believe in Him. It means being open to His perspective. Interestingly, in Alcoholics Anonymous, Step 2 is "to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity." For the non-denominational participants, the Power can be anything from God to a mountain to space. Believing in a Power is about getting a fresh look at our little selves. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (12-13).
In April’s General Conference, President Uchtdorf restated these ideas in his own energetic way:
So, how does God motivate His children to follow Him in our day?

He sent His Son!

God sent His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to show us the right way.

God motivates through persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned. God is on our side. He loves us, and when we stumble, He wants us to rise up, try again, and become stronger.

He is our mentor.

He is our great and cherished hope.

He desires to stimulate us with faith.

He trusts us to learn from our missteps and make correct choices.

As we fill our hearts with the love of Christ, we will awaken with a renewed spiritual freshness and we will walk joyfully, confidently, awake, and alive in the light and glory of our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ.
When I thank God for my blessings and remember the bigger picture of behaving with magnanimity, I become a more balanced person. I become more like the 10th leper who slowed down and looked around and remembered God’s love. I sometimes even have the patience of Christ although that happens less than it should. I have to keep reminding myself, and I falter a lot but reminding myself always pays off in the long run.

As Paul says, God, who made the light shine out of darkness, “shines in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Church Talk: Joseph Smith and the Importance of a Physical Body

I gave this talk Fall 2015. It and the talk I will post next represent two foundations of my belief system: one, the positive nature of the physical existence; two, the non-legalistic nature of Christ's teachings. 

When I was growing up, the Young Women’s motto was a scripture: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” from the Book of Moses, Moses 1:39.

Joseph Smith received the Book of Moses as revelation during his translation of the Bible. This translation was never completed though parts of it were published in 1851. The Book of Moses can now be found in the Pearl of Great Price, which includes the Book of Abraham, the Articles of Faith, and Joseph Smith History. The Book of Moses covers Genesis 1-6 (technically, Genesis 1:1-6:13).

Joseph Smith began the translation of the Bible, which led to the Book of Moses, in 1830. He was very busy in the 1830s. The translation of The Book of Mormon was completed in 1829 and published in 1830. The Church was established April 6, 1830. Joseph Smith received numerous revelations at this time, many of which can be found in the Doctrine & Covenants.

These revelations, the translation of The Book of Mormon, and the Book of Moses restore important doctrines—specifically, doctrines related to the physical resurrection.

Members of the LDS church believe that all people will be resurrected after death. They will have a physical, perfected form. I personally believe that when I am resurrected, I will have real red hair (it will involve tweaking only a few genes!).

We desire to have these physical, perfected bodies because Heavenly Father has a perfected body, made of matter. We cannot fully understand His body. After His resurrection, Jesus Christ deliberately kept marks of his crucifixion as a witness to His identity and acts. The exact nature of the perfected body is unknown; we do know it is composed of flesh and bone. D&C 130:22.

Why was the doctrine of the physical resurrection lost?

After Jesus Christ’s ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection, the gospel was taught by the apostles led by Peter. Paul, the great missionary, also spread these truths throughout the Mediterranean World. As the apostles were killed one by one, including Peter and Paul, the doctrines were lost or changed. People attempted to put pieces back together without the priesthood, i.e. without prophetic revelation. They were puzzled by many things—such as the physical resurrection.

The physical resurrection was challenged in large part by what became known as Gnosticism, which finds its roots in Greek philosophy. The Gnostics were troubled by the physical body, including the idea that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would choose to be born to a mortal woman and choose to take on physical form. Dallin H. Oakes explains, “The tangible, personal God described in the Old and New Testaments was replaced by an abstract [being].” The Gnostics saw the spirit as incorruptible and the body as corruptible. They saw the physical experience as a mistake.

Joseph Smith challenged these false ideas when he restored our understanding of the purpose of mortality. The Book of Moses opens with a discussion between Jehovah and Moses. Moses wishes to understand the purpose of mortality: Moses 1:30. In answer, Jehovah reveals God’s plan. How the earth was created is less important than why: Moses 1:39. We learn from the Book of Moses and The Book of Mormon that the physical resurrection is tied to the creation and to Adam and Eve.

We know from the Book of Moses, which restates Genesis 1, that the physical world is good—Moses 3:2—which includes endowing Adam and Eve with physical bodies although those bodies are not yet mortal.

When Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, they gained mortal bodies. In Moses 5, they both reflect on this experience and rejoice in it. As a result of leaving the Garden, their eyes were opened, and they could have children. They also came to fully understand God’s plan. Eve declares in verse 11, “We . . . know . . . the joy of redemption.” Adam states in verse 10, “In this life I shall have joy and again in the flesh I shall see God.”
Sidenote: In CTR class, Logan asked me, “Why did they have to leave the Garden of Eden?” After all, the Primary picture of Adam and Eve strolling through a garden with sprawling tigers looks awfully inviting! I used the explanations from my talk, but they didn’t work on a 5-year-old brain. Finally, I said, “Do you know what it means to ‘progress’? Adam and Eve couldn’t progress in the Garden of Eden.” He looked a little puzzled, so I added, “You know how you grow older and go to school. You progress. Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden to go to school.” And the light-bulb came on!
When Adam & Eve left the Garden of Eden, two things occurred. They gained mortal bodies, meaning they would die—like us. And they and their children gained the ability to willfully sin. To willfully sin is to sin knowing the difference between good and evil. Wrongdoing committed in a state of innocence is not sin—consequently, Mormons do not baptize children under the age of 8; they are not yet accountable. Moses 6:54 states that “children are whole from the foundation of the world.”

But we adults are liable for our behavior as we know from Article of Faith 2. We are “agents unto ourselves.”

So in mortality, we die and we make mistakes. How can we hope to overcome physical and spiritual death? How can we hope, like Adam, to “see God in the flesh”?

We can hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Atonement conquers the death of the physical body; it also conquers sin. The physical resurrection is necessary to BOTH parts of this process.

Alma 40:23 reads, “The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul.” 2 Nephi 9:13 tells us that together spirit and body form a “living soul.” And direct revelation to Joseph Smith in D&C 93:33-34 states clearly that when body and spirit are separated, “man cannot receive a fullness of joy.”

Without a resurrected body, we cannot be judged. Therefore, without a physical resurrection, repentance and spiritual progress cannot be assessed. The physical resurrection is VITAL to what is referred to as the Plan of Redemption, Plan of Salvation, and, my father’s favorite, the Plan of Happiness 😄.

The doctrine of the physical resurrection is extraordinary! How privileged we are to understand—because of Joseph Smith—that the mortal experience is NOT an accident and having a mortal body is NOT shameful.

To gain a mortal body—to go through the mortal experience—is NOT to be corrupted, as the Gnostics maintained. It is a necessary and constructive part of our journey. Both the spirit and body bring positive attributes to our existence as a “living soul”—the spirit because it can receive inspiration from God and be influenced by the Holy Ghost; the body because it is a humbling influence on the spirit. Our spirits are prone to pride and have been since pre-mortality. But pride has a hard time contending with the realization, “I’m getting older. You know, I think I need new glasses.” Practical reality is a steadying influence on the spirit!

The body also enables us to enjoy life.

I have been teaching in Primary for the last six months or so. I teach Sunbeams and CTRs. The lessons in these manuals remind me of the marvelous world we live in. We have lessons about choosing the right and Joseph Smith and prayer. We also have lessons about how God loves all people everywhere. And we have gratitude lessons about the wonderful world we live it, lessons titled, “I am Thankful for Water.” “I am Thankful for Animals.” “I am Thankful for My Hands.”

One of my favorite Primary songs is “My Heavenly Father Loves Me.”

Whenever I hear the song of a bird
Or look at the blue, blue sky,
Whenever I feel the rain on my face
Or the wind as it rushes by,
Whenever I touch a velvet rose
Or walk by our lilac tree,
I'm glad that I live in this beautiful world
Heav'nly Father created for me.

He gave me my eyes that I might see
The color of butterfly wings.
He gave me my ears that I might hear
The magical sound of things.
He gave me my life, my mind, my heart:
I thank him rev'rently
For all his creations, of which I'm a part.
Yes, I know Heav'nly Father loves me.

What amazing reminders these are of the glorious world in which we live!

We are meant to be here. And we understand why in large part because of Joseph Smith. “The mind of Joseph Smith,” said President Hinckley, “tutored by the God of Heaven, encompassed all humankind of all generations.”

I am thankful to Joseph Smith for providing the Book of Moses, so I could have Moses 1:39 to sustain me through my life. “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

Church Talk: Repentance

I gave this talk in church on January 15, 2012. To be honest, this topic doesn't entirely thrill me. Repentance reminds me a little too forcefully of being obedient, not upsetting the apple-cart, and being mad at myself. Since I was one of those kids born into the world with a guilty conscience, I don't feel like it's a part of me that should be encouraged. In this talk, I attempted to focus on the improving, positive aspects of becoming better. One of my favorite church videos--and one of the most artistic--encapsulates this idea.

As one of the first four principles of the gospel, repentance can seem overwhelming. Elder Neal A. Maxwell states, “Repentance is a rescuing, not a dour doctrine.” That is, it is a positive, not a negative principle.

Repentance can often seem like a negative principle because it means casting off sins caused by ignorance, weakness, and willful disobedience. Ignorance, weakness, and willful disobedience can be rather discouraging!

There is a process to help us deal with repentance: first, recognize the sin; next, feel sorrow for the sin (not merely the negative consequences of the sin but sorrow for the sin itself); then, forsake the sin, confessing it to Heavenly Father, another person (if necessary) and priesthood authority (if necessary); make restitution; forgive oneself and others; finally, continue to keep the commandments.

This is a good process. What is the purpose of this process? What are the different stages of the process attempting to achieve?

To illustrate the purpose of the process, I am going to compare events in the lives of two men: Joseph Smith and Alma the Younger.

Following the First Vision, during a three-year period, Joseph Smith states that he fell into “foolish errors and the weakness . . . and foibles of human nature” (JS-History 1:28). I’m sure we can all relate to that! Worried, he prayed that he might know of the state of his relationship with God.

Alma the Younger was persecuting the church when an angel appeared to him and commanded him to stop. The angel came to Alma the Younger in answer to the prayers of Alma’s father and members of the church.

These are two very different men. Joseph Smith was undergoing ordinary human failings. Alma the Younger, on the other hand, had actively turned his back on God.

However, both men underwent similar experiences. When Joseph Smith prayed, the angel Moroni appeared to him, and Joseph Smith was given a new mission: to locate and eventually translate the Book of Mormon.

After the angel appeared to Alma the Younger, he was unable to move or speak for two days. During that time, he had a vision. He explains what happened to him in that vision in Mosiah 27: 24-26.
24 For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.

25 And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;

26 And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
Both Joseph Smith and Alma the Younger experienced a restart of their spiritual progression. Joseph Smith just needed to be revved out of stall while Alma the Younger actually needed to turn the car around—still, both of them underwent a renewal, a regeneration of their relationship with God.

This renewal or regeneration is referred to often in the scriptures. It is frequently compared to being reborn or receiving a new heart. Jeremiah 24:7 states that the Lord “will give us a heart to know him.” Ezekiel 18:31 states that we should “cast away transgressions . . . make [us] a new heart and spirit” while Ezekiel 36:26 includes a promise from the Lord: “[A] new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you an heart of flesh.” An “heart of flesh” is a heart that is whole and responsive and can appreciate the love of God.

More examples! In Alma 5:26, Alma the Younger gives a sermon in which he wonders if his listeners have “experienced a change of heart and . . . felt to sing the song of redeeming love.”

And, of course, there is the famous passage in the New Testament when Nicodemus comes to see Jesus, and Jesus tells him that to enter into the kingdom of God, he must be “born again . . . of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:3,5).

Rebirth/a change of heart/softening heart: all these images have to do with renewal, regeneration, transformation. The purpose of repentance is not to just follow a list of instructions but to undergo a process that involves progression. Through repentance, we can lose our cynicism; we can gain optimism and feel renewed.

Another story about repentance takes a middle road in comparison to the earlier stories. Joseph Smith in the earlier story was suffering from ordinary human failings while Alma the Younger had actually turned away from God.

We often make mistakes that fall between these two points. One example comes again from Joseph Smith’s life. About the time he finished translating the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith became friends with an older man, Martin Harris. Martin Harris was not only older but wealthier and better educated. He convinced Joseph Smith to give him the 116 pages to show to others. Joseph Smith agreed DESPITE several warnings through the Spirit that it was not a good idea.

The pages were stolen. Joseph Smith was devastated. He took the responsibility for the theft on himself, saying, “I . . . tempted the wrath of God. I should have been satisfied with the first answer which I received from the Lord; for he told me that it was not safe to let the writing go out of my possession” (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, "Section 3"). Doctrine & Covenants 3 tells us that Joseph Smith ignored the promptings of the Spirit because he feared man more than God. This is understandable; we all often do things that we know aren’t wise out of fear of disappointing a boss or friends or people who seem wiser in the ways of the world.

For a time, Joseph Smith lost his ability to translate, and he experienced a heavy heart. However, he repented and Doctrine & Covenants 10 tells us that he was forgiven. He regained his ability to translate and was commanded to continue in the work, to not run faster or labor more than he had strength, to be faithful and diligent, and to pray always.

Repentance brought Joseph Smith a renewal of his relationship with God; he was encouraged to keep going in the same direction.

Likewise, when we repent, we should accept and applaud the change of heart that comes with the process. In a March 1993 Ensign article, Joseph Walker writes:
Of course, this change of heart isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Nor is it intended only for those who are guilty of major violations of God’s law. It can come every day of our lives as we prayerfully consider our commitment to the Lord and the sacred covenants we have made with him. In doing so, sometimes we’ll feel the need to repent and improve. Other times we’ll feel the confident peace of purity, which in this life only comes through repentance. Those are the times when we will feel most inclined to “sing the song of redeeming love."(“Singing the Song of Redeeming Love”)
The purpose of repentance is to encourage renewal, so we feel like singing. The joy that accompanies the repentance process is one of its gifts.

I think we often have difficulty accepting the gifts of the repentance process. We go through the process, then immediately think, “Time for a break!” or “Got to start over, work on getting rid of another sin!”

I think we feel this way for several reasons--we are afraid of change; we feel we aren’t good enough to accept God’s gifts; we know we aren’t perfect (and we aren’t!). Finally and I think more profoundly, it can be difficult for humans to accept how truly forgiving and generous God is.

The story of Jonah from the Old Testament is a good example of this. We’ve all heard of Jonah and the whale, but AFTER Jonah got out of the whale, he did what he was supposed to do in the first place: he went to the city of Ninevah to tell the inhabitants there that they would be destroyed for their sins.

Surprise! The inhabitants repented. Instead of being pleased, Jonah was upset. He left the city and sulked instead of rejoicing with those he helped. He actually sat outside of the city, hoping it would be destroyed. While he did this, God sent a vine to shade him from the sun, and Jonah was content to sit in the shade. But then God destroyed the vine, and Jonah started sulking again. At which point, God rebuked Jonah for being happier about the shade than about the city being saved. In other words, Jonah was rebuked for not taking pleasure in the process of repentance.

We need to be willing to participate in the gifts of repentance, to be optimistic and positive, because those gifts make future repentance easier. Just like it is easier to exercise when we feel upbeat, it is easier to repent when we have a positive attitude.

In contrast to Jonah, the Book of Mormon tells us of Ammon, one of the sons of Mosiah. He repented of his sins at the same time as Alma the Younger, and he and his brothers went on missions to the Lamanites. After their missions, they met up again, and Ammon spoke to his brothers about what they had been through:
Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name. (Alma 26:35, Kate’s emphasis)
What about that for a positive attitude?! Can’t you just feel his excitement?!

Now, we don’t always feel excited about repentance; many times, we have to do what Joseph Smith did and push ourselves out of stall. But if we keep the example of people like Ammon in mind, the process will be easier. If we remember that repenting means enjoying the gifts of repentance, we can use those gifts to help us through the process.

Repentance is happiness.

THESIS: Introduction

Here it is! At this point, I need to thank my college advisor and thesis reader: Professor Conforti and Professor Ryden. First of all, I need to thank them for reading this stuff over and over and over and over . . . Second, for telling me that the particular battle I am trying to fight is still there to be fought. (I was deathly afraid the entire time I was working on my thesis that some professor somewhere would publish a new tome making my thesis utterly obsolete.) Third, at the risk of sounding snide, I need to thank them for supplying me with opportunities to hone my opinions. Many of the arguments presented in this thesis came about during lectures where I either vocalized my dissatisfaction with a professor or student's opinion or sat stewing in philosophical fury. I may be the last humanities student alive who actually takes academic arguments seriously, but hey, it's gotta be someone!

I need to thank Professor Conforti, especially, for being such a goal-oriented advisor. For employment reasons, I had to get the thesis done within six months or less. Professor Conforti's "let's get it over with already" attitude was a huge asset in the achievement of that goal!

Concerning my purpose in writing the thesis (other than wanting to graduate), the Introduction, which follows, is more or less self-explanatory. Suffice it to say, This is my attempt to bring into the academic study of literature, the kind of in-depth and enthusiastic discourse that fans carry on everyday.

Please feel free to comment, only not, I beg you, on textual errors. At this point, as the thesis is being bound and stuck somewhere in the USM library, I really don't want to know. To reach me, e-mail:

Inside Knowledge: Votary Theory at Work

People who are fond of books know the feeling of
irritation which sweeps over them [when disturbed].
The temptation to be unreasonable and
snappish is one not easy to manage.
The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The first time I forgot myself while reading was in second grade. I barely remember the book now, except that it was an easy reader and about a cat. I do remember that I became so absorbed, I was late for school lunch. It was the beginning of many years of inattentiveness. Ten years later, I would get moved to the front of eleventh grade math for reading Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bears during class. Upon entering the work force as a secretary, I learned never to bring interesting books to my desk. I was liable to bark, "What do you want?" to interrupting supervisors.

My enthrallment with books started before I learned to read myself. I was read to as a child, mostly by my mother, who also told me fairytales, including her own (about a troll named Milo). I developed a predisposition then for audio performances. I would also act out the stories I heard. I would experiment mentally, and physically, with crafting fictions: if you change all the female characters in Cinderella to male and the male characters to female, does it alter the story? Suppose a certain event, crucial to the original text, does not occur? Suppose we add a character--what happens then? Story was a real as well as a made thing.

Despite growing up without a television, I was surrounded by performances: ballet (my sister Ann's interest), plays in the park--Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde--opera, symphonies, Peter, Paul & Mary, black & white oldies (shown at the old-style, downtown theater), Star Wars, The Cat from Outer Space. Once I bought a television at the age of twenty-six, I became equally enamoured with commercials, sitcoms and television dramas (Criminal Minds, Buffy, Star Trek). The remarkable aspect of my youth, however, was not the plethora of art to which I was exposed but the fact that so little of it was accompanied by any valuation.

Sincere Marxists and semiologists will insist that I did unwittingly receive the valuations of a dominant culture. A Caucasian female living in upstate New York, I was inculcated through the shows I attended, the radio I listened to, and the movies I watched with images, icons and concepts that supported and furthered the agendas, opinions, values of my white, middle class culture. The equation is complicated somewhat by the fact that I am a Mormon and was raised as one, but nevertheless, I am, in fact, Anglo and middle class.

Suffice it to say that defending my Anglo, middle class upbringing was not a factor of my childhood. I never needed to defend anything I read to anyone. We went to see Shakespeare because my parents like Shakespeare not because he was valuable or important or canonized. We also went to see the aforementioned Star Wars and scads of Little League baseball games. Every event was approached with the same interest, humor and post-show analysis. The idea of placing books or playwrights or films into hierarchies was never addressed, nor were the books, plays and films linked to political or social agendas. I am still flummoxed when I run across readers who equate their particular likes and dislikes with membership in a specific political party.(Footnote 1) Most importantly, my reactions--despite the post-show analysis--were never formalized or made relevant. No one asked me if I'd caught the symbolism in C.S. Lewis' Narnia series (my comprehension of the symbolism was taken for granted); no one asked me what Shakespeare meant to me. (A lot.) And certainly, no one ever asked me if I intended the novels of Orson Scott Card to form a life-long interdisciplinary reading pattern between religion and science-fiction, although that kind of happened anyway.

Subsequently, upon entering college, I experienced a minor shock. In retrospect, the Humanities program at Brigham Young University in 1989 was, if anything, geared towards formalism, even New Criticism; formalism, I don't mind; what I wasn't prepared for was the high-mindedness attached to literature and the subsequent politics that accompanied that high-mindedness. Reading literature did not just mean that one learned a great deal about the Romantics, Beowulf and Maya Angelou. It gave one clout of sorts. If one read Henry V, one could make comments about the Gulf War. Or women's rights. Or anything.

It occurred to me that the humanities was fighting a desperate, and rearguard, action against the hard and soft scientists who did use their disciplines to comment on such things as women's rights or, in the case of the hard scientists, to address the provable workings of the universe (all while we humanities scholars were nitpicking nuances in The Tale of Genji). Justification for one's discipline appeared to be tied to one's ability to slather the outcomes of that discipline onto the rest of the world. Hence the desire by humanities students, and professors, to use their Insights Into Human Nature to Say Profound Things. Which seemed, to my twenty-year-old mind, unbelievably dumb. I gravitated towards professors who emphasized authorial intent and historical context and who were, as well, overwhelming engaged by their particular specialties (I am happy to say that they were there to find). In the meantime, I developed, as twenty-year-olds are wont to do, a Theory in which I condemned every artistic work that meant something. Author makes statement equals bad literature, I decided.

That lasted right up until I realized that I'd condemned C.S. Lewis and Dostoevsky amongst others. I tried to fit exceptions into my theory and then gave it up. But my dissatisfaction with the search for Meaning or Purpose in literature remained, a dissatisfaction that has been exacerbated by current trends in critical theory. The compulsion by humanities students to Talk About Life appears to have intensified in the last ten years. In issuing pronouncements on race, class and gender, the humanities discipline appears more and more like an extension of the Sociology Department, its language a blend of labels and jargon and a rather excessive use of the word "ideology."

Power lies at the core of this abandonment of aesthetics for "relevance." As in the game of hot potato, humanities students breathlessly follow the exchange of power from discipline to discipline, group to group. Now, women have it (who will get it next? where did it go?). Now, it's back to the white males. Oops, it crossed over to the resistant ideology. Nope, the dominant ideology snatched it back. A discipline intended for the study and enjoyment of literature has turned works of art into sociological springboards--what can we do with Jane Austen? Do we love her because she is a feminist? Do we loathe her because she isn’t feminist enough?--a type of blatant self-promotion fraught with irony, considering the anti-capitalistic tendencies of humanities departments. Straightforward commodification would bother me less, but I refuse to hand Pamela over to scholars who will claim great insight while deploying Pamela in their gender wars. (Although to be fair, I doubt Richardson would have minded.)

Where, I wonder, are the scholars who love literature just because it is literature? Who don't need to dismantle it or politicize it or defend it in terms of "real-life applications?" Who experience, as Roland Barthes called it, jouissance, the fun of the thing. I know these scholars exist. I have myself been in thrall to artistic works, in love with words, images, dialogue, faces. Moreover, I have encountered amongst my friends and relations (and through them, other lovers of artistic works) a fondness for entering fictional worlds. My friends and family and I will discuss film and novel characters as real people, not bothering to preface our remarks with "according to the author" or "as seen through our eyes." I have also witnessed a flexible and objective independence by which fans will reject an event within the "canon" story because it doesn't ring true while remaining faithful to the author/director's overall characterizations and design.(Footnote 2)

Too often, this type of creative involvement is perceived by humanities scholars as a nice, but useless, side-effect, not the principal response to the arts under discussion.(Footnote 3) Again and again, they return to the value of a work as a source of historical, sociological, even personal change. In her book on the Oprah Book Club, Kathleen Rooney echoes an idea common amongst many scholars (and readers) when she writes, "[I]n many cases the very impulse to read [amongst high brow and low brow readers] may very well be delineated in terms of . . . . self-improvement." It is foolish, Rooney argues, to attack Oprah for doing the very thing promoted by academe. She continues, "One of the things--but certainly not the only thing--genuinely good books can do for us as readers is inspire us to higher levels of morality, in the sense that they put us through the paces of moral awareness and affiliation, and disaffiliation." Rooney, I should state, makes a valiant effort to not reduce the literary search for self-improvement to mere platitudes or lessons. Nevertheless, her attitude that literature should mean or do something--should feed us in a practical rather than creative way--is at the root of not only Oprah's Book Club but contemporary academic approaches to the arts.(Footnote 4)

The search for a usable purpose in the arts is hardly new to Western Civilization. It extends back as far as Plato. Many groups and cultures consider that the arts are only palatable if they contain a moral lesson. However, the issue I wish to address is not, Do people believe that art should educate? but, What is the job of the humanities scholar in regards to the arts? Is it our job to fight over artistic works, pushing and molding them until they say the "right" kinds of things, the things we personally approve of and hold important, insightful and necessary to society? Should every production of Taming of the Shrew be preceded by a lecture on the evils of chauvinism, or, contrariwise, on the resistant aspects of feminist ideology? Are humanities scholars condemned forever to hold the position of cultural judges: this is acceptable because it addresses race, class and gender; this isn't acceptable because it promotes capitalism and other nefarious ideologies?

I hope not. I believe the job of the humanities scholar is to understand an artistic work on a creative level. Political commentary, gender commentary, social commentary may be entertaining, but they are not our primary responsibility. Rather, the artistic works of any age--be they popular, middlebrow, classical or indeterminate--are themselves the scholar's responsibility: a wide and deep area, hence the need for specialties. Our responsibility is not one of judgment, although judgment is not always out of place. Rather, our responsibility is to acknowledge, comprehend and just plain care about artistic works--literature, plays, poems, films: the outpouring of creativity throughout the ages.(Footnote 5) We should learn their contexts, learn how they have been used, how analyzed. We should understand their audiences. Most importantly, we should look for the creative desire, manifested throughout these works, in both the artist and in the reader/spectator.

Once again, hopefully with more success that when I was twenty, I have developed a theory. In this case, the theory is meant as a tool, a way of approaching artistic works that will address them at the creative level. I call this tool votary theory.(Footnote 6) Votary theory, while not ignoring historical or social realities (the influence of context), focuses on the creativity within artistic works rather than on their power-related or usable applications (social, political, personal). More precisely, votary theory postulates that power is not, in fact, the overwhelming determinant that so many critical theorists suppose. People do not watch plays, read books, listen to music, go to movies for the sake of reinforcing political (and therefore power-ful or power-less) positions. Finally, votary theory presents a set of tools with which to address individual works. Hopefully, through votary theory, the worst excesses of critical theory can be avoided. Artistic works should never be subsumed by signifiers, ideologies or political labels, languages that do almost anything except understand the things they describe.
1. A secretary (and political science major) I once worked with informed me that Republicans don't like Harry Potter. Since I know a number of Republicans and since most of them have read and liked Rowlings' books, I was at a loss as how to answer. "Uh…."

2. Many Buffy fans were upset by a last minute cancelled wedding that occurred in the second to last season. As a result, some fans, like myself, re-imagined the script to accommodate the unexpected ending while others simply ignored the event as "non-canon"; however, no fan abandoned the story line for that season as a whole. Like it or not, the characters didn't get married.

3. Reader response theorists being the notable exception. The current trend in reader response, however, is largely sociological, i.e., Elizabeth Long's Book Clubs: Women and the Uses of Reading in Everyday Life (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003) and Janice Radway's Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Caroline Press, 1984, reprinted 1991).

4. Kathleen Rooney, Reading With Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2005), 76. "[T]ruly great novels," Rooney writes in the same chapter, "result not only from an author's intellectual, political, social and cultural seriousness"--yikes!--"but also from an author's ability to evoke a kind of enigmatic, philosophical and almost spiritual quality," 98-99.

5. There is a beautiful passage in Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1980) in which the narrator imagines books conversing through time: "Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves . . the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialog between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors," 342-343.

6. My use of the term "votary" comes from a 1946 review of The Duchess of Malfi by Brooks Atkinson in which he refers to playgoers as "votaries of horror." I prefer "votary" to "fan," not because my conceptualization of a votary is very different from that of a fan but because "fan" carries a somewhat single-minded/popular culture connotation. I needed a broader term.

Chapter 1

Chapter 1 is the boring chapter. There are a few zingers, but you have to hunt for them. However, Chapter 1 was necessary to the thesis; here, I attempted three things: (1) to prove to my professors that I knew enough (just) about critical theory to get away with inventing a new theory; (2) to establish the background to which I was responding; (3) to establish the axioms of votary theory, namely that people are individuals and individuals have creative desires.

If you are thinking, "You had to defend the idea that people have personal likes and dislikes over art? Are you kidding me!?" . . . you and me both, baby, you and me both.

Votary Theory

After a lecture of my own I have been accompanied
from Mill Lane to Magdalene by a young man
protesting with real anguish and horror against
my wounding, my vulgar, my irreverent
suggestion that The Miller's Tale was
written to make people laugh.
Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis

The humanities often becomes obsessed with the desire to be relevant. This desire takes two forms: relativistic interpretations based upon personal or sociopolitical demands (and often completely unrelated to the text); and, cultural interpretations in which the text or performance becomes merely a peephole into its surrounding milieu, supplying the scholar with pedantic, often power-oriented, lessons about a time-period or culture. In the first case, context--the author's intent, the work's historicity, its relationship to other works--is lost; the work becomes no more or less deconstructable than a car manual. In the second case, the work becomes little more than evidence for other concerns, of little worth in its own right. In both cases, the work is robbed of its creative essence. It is my hope that votary theory will help the humanities scholar approach artistic works with balance; more importantly, it will enable the scholar to focus on the creative strengths, or weaknesses, of an artistic work and on the creative desire that connects that work to its audience.

The relationship between historic context and creativity must first be addressed. Picture a container, a plastic glass from Wal-Mart or Target, the kind that is sold with summer patio items. It is tall, colored with pastel stripes or dots. This glass can hold lemonade or iced tea, water or soda: a host of liquids. It would not be wise to fill it with especially hot items; the plastic has a tendency to melt.

The container represents context; it is empirical in nature, composed of proof held together by narrative or theory. It morphs--these glasses tend to crack, chip and warp slightly with the passage of time, although they are surprisingly hardy--and its base rests on an ideal: that history can and should be submitted to the strictures of responsible evidence.

The glass's content is much more variable and far less definite. It is personal, emotional, creative, qualities difficult to quantify. But no matter how abstract, the content must fit the glass. It is not wise, or responsible, to pour into the glass a flood of expectations which the glass is not equipped to handle; another container should be found. Likewise, we must accept that our desires about the past must fit their proper contexts. The very real creativity of Shakespeare is not exchangeable with the very real creativity of Arthur Miller. William Wordsworth and T.S. Eliot could not have walked in each other's shoes. Steven Spielberg is not Homer with a slightly different schtick (although that may be debatable).

Thus the relationship, in votary theory, between historical context and the creative act. Votary theory focuses ultimately on the artist's and audience's creative desire, an ineffable, indeterminate quality, difficult to categorize; yet that quality must fit its container, its moment of occurrence. In this way, even something as relativistic and theoretical as creativity can be held to a standard of proof. It is customary to assume, for example, that the opinions we hold in the present are opinions we would hold in another time. We are tempted to believe that a tolerant twenty-first century liberal would behave with tolerance and liberalism in the seventeenth century. It is far more likely that the expression of a similar state of mind would occur. From this perspective, the blue-state horror of gun-toting and overly religious red states has a far closer emotional link with the Puritan fear of displeased, displaced and (uniquely) religious Native Americans than with any Quaker-like tendencies from the same time period.

This does not negate the presence of tolerance (or paranoia) in either the blue-state or the Puritan; rather, it points to differing modes of expression. Likewise, votary theory postulates the existence of a creative desire which, like envy, happiness, trust and love, appears over and over in historically unique guises. Further, votary theory, while not proposing an absence of political considerations, suggests that the creative desire may have more influence within history than is usually credited. Through votary theory, an aesthetic appreciation of a work within its historical moment may be achieved. This is accomplished by focusing not on the work's purpose or the reader's use of the work, but on the reader/spectator as he or she exists inside the work.

Votary theory begins with an acceptance of a work's audience as composed of individuals; an individual engages an artistic work in a particular time and place, crafting a position within that work in order to enjoy its creative reality. Unlike reader response, votary theory does not examine the linear engagement between the reader/spectator and the work: the ways by which the reader processes a text, accepting or rejecting signifiers, information, themes. Neither does votary theory focus on the use that individuals make of artistic works (social, political, personal). Rather, votary theory focuses on the reader/spectator within the artistic work, the creative experience rather than the self-referential one. Readers/spectators willingly enter an author's creation, suspending other desires or impulses for the sake of the experience. How they behave within the work--whether they feel at home there, whether they wish to remain, to return--is the concern of votary theory. The reader as an historical being bears on the experience of engagement but the historical relevance of the work should excite the humanities scholar less than whether, and how, the reader's creative desires were satisfied.

In order to explicate this concept, it is first necessary to defend the individual as a creative agent since positioning within a work cannot be accomplished, or discussed, en masse. Without agreement at this fundamental level, the humanities scholar will not be able to utilize the tools offered by votary theory. If the individual experience of an artistic work doesn't matter, then social/political commentary is the only thing left to us and the humanities may as well relinquish its responsibility towards the arts to the manipulations of sociology. Votary theory, therefore, attempts not only to provide a tool of understanding but to defend the creative experience at an individual level.

The Individual as Agent

The individual as agent, and, specifically, the individual as a creative agent is often dismissed by theorists as naïve and jejeune, an old-time attitude of Western civilization long outgrown. Few contemporary scholars go so far as the Frankfurt School, which perceived mass culture as modern bread and circuses, entertainment designed to distract the lower orders from the ennui and dissatisfaction of the capitalistic system. Yet many scholars, including structuralists and postmodernists, remain surprisingly wedded to the concept that something is going on within mass culture other than personal enjoyment. The "something else" is either resistance or citizenship.

In the first case, resistance, scholars hope to awaken the masses--Brechtian-like-- to read "against the text." Popular culture becomes legitimate the more it is perceived as adversarial, attacking the dominant culture rather than reinforcing it. "[M]ass culture," Dana Polan wrote in 1986, "has become one of culture studies' most recurrent Others--a repository and a stereotypic cause of all the social ills of life under capitalism."(Footnote 1) If scholars can prove instead that popular works undermine the conventions of the dominant culture, freeing audiences from society's capitalistic mantle, such works will gain legitimacy as academic topics. In many ways, such scholarship is similar to the treatment of Harry Potter by occasional Christian fundamentalists; to avoid condemning the popular children's series as tainted by black magic, they interpret the texts as Christian, replete with allegorical significance. In both cases, mass or popular culture performs an acceptably edifying function. That a revelatory and edifying mass culture might also bore people to death hardly matters in the face of enlightenment.

Communal resistance, followed by communal enlightenment, is only possible once the individual--idiosyncratic, sometimes irrational, wholly self-interested--is annihilated from the equation. Once that occurs, all responses become social responses, shared constructions which collectively sway the ship of culture one way or another. Theorists--who are as capable of discussing themselves as they are of discussing others--are not unaware of the flaw in this conception. If responses to art are socially constructed, then our understanding of those responses is also socially constructed. Roland Barthes himself drew a line between popular culture which evades the dominant ideology and popular culture which addresses it, either in acceptance or rejection; but post-post-modernists (if not Barthes himself) would point out that all of Barthes' arguments are drawn from a similar source and background: Western critical thought.(Footnote 2)

In recent years, theories about culture have drifted from the exposure of mass conventions to the shared social aspects of artistic works. In his book Re-Reading Popular Culture, Joke Hermes argues that popular culture provides a powerful form of citizenship which reaches across class, race and gender, including as well as excluding. He is less interested in deconstructing popular culture than in watching it at work in society. Popular culture becomes a resource for shared expression and dialogue. It is also a disciplinary force, with negative and positive effects.(Footnote 3)

Other scholars, noting the interdisciplinary threads of cultural research, have stressed that culture is complex, non-reducible to one theory, structure or set of signs. They examine the multiple interactions between a production and its community, but the interactions under study are almost always external--the organized, resistant or self-conscious reciprocity amongst viewers, fans, groups.(Footnote 4) Votary theory, on the other hand, examines what is, to an extent, entirely theoretical and unknowable: the internal delight which a reader/spectator feels towards a work--the enthrallment, the self-forgetfulness, the merging of the reader with the author's world.

Outside of reader response criticism, which seems to trundle along entirely apart from cultural and historical considerations, theorists remain wary of promoting the individual in culture--mass, popular or otherwise. Roland Barthes, a seminal figure in the field of critical theory, considered jouissance (delight in the bodily elements of popular culture) an individualistic experience, yet ultimately saw it too as political, an "evasion of ideology," a form of resistance.(Footnote 5) Susan Bennett's attitude in her book Theatre Audiences: A Theory of Production and Reception (1990) is typical of many contemporary theorists. While defending the individual's response to the theater, she is vaguely apologetic, assuring her readers that she is concerned with experimental theater which will change people socially and politically.(Footnote 6)

Theorists seem consumed by political and sociological perspectives. "I readily grant the argument that, as consumers, readers have little control over popular culture," Hermes writes, while Janet Staigner states, "[C]ritical approaches to autonomous literary or cinematic texts" are in fact arguments over "social arrangements."(Footnote 7) Richard Butsch in his book The Making of American Audiences argues that resistance must be collective in order to matter, stating, "Indeed, all actions (and inaction) are inescapably political, in the sense that every act inevitably contributes to recreating existing conditions or to changing them."(Footnote 8) Even reader response theorists, who have drifted closest to the scorned concept of the individual, were rescued from embarrassment by Stanley Fish's philosophy of interpretative communities, which posits that people--for all their personal experiences, thoughts, reactions--emerge from a culture which imbibes them with knowledge regarding culture-specific signs, constructions, and assumptions.

Fish is not necessarily wrong. The individual as separate from society (and hence history) is a rather palpable impossibility. Nevertheless, the reluctance--the fear--of scholars towards the individual in history strikes an odd note in the study of artistic works. Absent a truly relativistic mentality, most people would agree that we are biological beings who come into this world as individual brains encased in individual skins. For theorists concerned with categorizing mental behaviors or promoting social activism, the individual experience of life may not matter. For those of us more interested in comprehending the feel, aura, ambiance and sense of an event, the individual's existence, choices and creative desires carry enormous weight. Nothing can be understood without it.

Imagine such an event: war, flood, murder. The event is comprised of many individuals--from twenties to thousands--interacting, withdrawing, complaining, dying. As they make choices, deliver decisions, state motivations--however socially crafted--they influence other choices, decisions, motivations. The event becomes a veritable swarm of interactions: letters sent, received, read. Conversations overheard, ignored. Actions avoided, taken, apologized for. As each individual moves, acts, thinks, talks, connections form. Standing above the action, we can barely decipher where connections begin or end. So we form theories. We tease out elements here, now here, now here, and draw thick lines of connection: dot-to-dot formulations. Add a few labels, words like "ideological" and "construction"--you can throw in "imperialism" just for fun--and you have a seemingly perceptive theory that will, at a superficial level, explain just about anything you want it to. Now remove the black line; look again at the intertwining, and downright messy paths of individuals at work. The dot-to-dot formulations may explain some general principles; they may address some wide-ranging ideas, allow for basic understanding, but they will never gratify the true historian's hunger for the reality of an event. How did it feel? What was it like? How did people behave, react, think?

What creative experiences did they engage in?

Sociologists have argued, cogently, that our current cultural assumptions make it impossible for us to ever fully adopt or live inside the reality of the past. When PBS valiantly attempted to produce "real" history by placing contemporary individuals in historical settings--1900 House, Colonial House--the result was inevitably problematic. Setting alone does not determine historical behavior. The entire mindset is missing. Nevertheless, we continue to seek for that quality of understanding; in doing so, we should remember that the individuals around us, and those of the past, are not so many constructs for us to borrow at will, rearrange at our pleasure. They are people who lived, died, loved, hated, endured, and we are passionately, consumably, aware of their materiality. We want to come to terms with that materiality, to grasp objectively, emotionally in what ways the people of the past are as real as us. This is true for the humanities scholar as much as for the historian, for it is only when we allow for the reality of others (past and present) that we will realize the creative substance of artistic works. As we learn to respect the audience as individuals, we will learn to respect the works those audiences imbibed.

For me, the issue of the individual comes down to one of love. As a Mormon, I believe in the salvation of the dead; that is, I believe I can be linked to my dead ancestors through religious ceremonies and that this link will preserve both them and me in the hereafter. This link does not wipe out historical relevance. I do not picture my pioneering ancestors or--to go further back--my blacksmithing and stewarding ancestors as belonging to the same political or social milieus in which I function. The nineteenth century Kellys who left the Isle of Man for the United States and, subsequently, Utah, lived in a different world from me. At the same time, I would be disrespectful if I imagined my ancestors as less engaged by religious principles, less capable of analysis and self-perception, less interested in artistic works and the joy those works bring. If I say, "My great-grandmother was a product of her time and location; she was obviously influenced in her decisions by the ideology of American westward expansion which further promoted her self-expression as a white woman in a patriarchal society," I am not really saying anything about her at all. I haven't captured her heart, thoughts, personality, day-to-day conditions. I have set her at one remove, pigeonholed by a thick line.

Context matters; I can learn a great deal about my great-grandmother by placing her within her time--what happened to her, what was being written and performed and preached during her time period, what we know (evidentially) about the nineteenth century--but accessing the quality of my great-grandmother's experience, and the pioneer movement, calls for something more insightful than ideological labels. Focusing on results, in other words, is not the best window into the human spirit and will not, in the end, give us a true or valid image of the past or the artistic works of the past.

More effective is an approach which positions us within the historical moment (see Fig. 4); from that position, we can follow connections as they branch, multiply, end, dive into odd corners. This is not relativism; one's perception changes with one's position, but the connections--decisions made, actions taken, thoughts transcribed--however confusing, continue to exist no matter where we stand. As we follow strands of connection, we may, in strange, unexpected moments, gain a glimpse of another world. Most importantly, for the purposes of votary theory, we can follow an individual's encounter with an artistic work, and in that way, hopefully come to appreciate the energy, creativity, triumph or failure of that work within its context.

Artistic works and their audiences deserve an approach that emphasizes a work's context without bypassing the individual and the individual's creative desires. An artistic work cannot be understood without its creator or its readers/spectators. The humanities scholar should know not only the who, where, when and why of a work's history, she should seek to comprehend the creativity/spirit/reality of the work and its performance. This will not occur until the creativity/spirit/reality of the individual in relationship to that work is accepted as a given. Broad social constructs do not convey this kind of information.

Through votary theory, I postulate that the individual's relationship to the work comes down to how that individual positions him/herself inside the work. The individual is motivated to do this by a creative desire. The first tenet of votary theory is that artistic works are enjoyed by individuals within their historical contexts. The second tenet is that individuals value and desire an interior, creative experience.

The Individual's Desires

Critical theorists, while allowing for "reflexive" attitudes on the part of audiences, consistently fail to allow for the creative desire within audiences (and sometimes even within artists). Discussions of individual desires inevitably take on social or political ramifications. The creative, imaginative impulse is lost in a storm of relevance. The result is a bizarre kind of literal aesthetic whereby any argument I make for a work's creative excellence is the result of my social/cultural status while, at the same time, I am being influenced, even indoctrinated, by the work's symbols and icons. I am too literal-minded to be swept away by the aesthetics of the work (my motivations are entirely reality and power-oriented) but too artistic to be impervious to the work's aesthetic operations. And if I read the thing backwards, presumably, I'll go join the Monkeys.

Creativity, first of all, is not a specialized right-brained activity, reserved for artists, poets and performers. People want to create all kinds of things: loving families, good filing systems, decent web sites, tasty treats, well-groomed animals, a trusty lesson plan. How that desire plays out may very well be influenced by cultural environments and institutions but votary theory postulates its existence regardless of external frameworks. The creative desire like any human desire (envy, hate, love) exists throughout time and history. The modes of its expression are influenced by context but context does not determine the desire. A contemporary Shakespeare would not, perhaps, write plays (unless he teamed up with Andrew Lloyd Webber); that a contemporary Shakespeare would have creative impulses I have no doubt.(Footnote 9)

The creative desire can antedate context because it does not have to be purposeful or political in order to exist. This is not to say that writers, actors, directors do not express political, purposeful ideas in their works. But the human desire to make something is not in itself political or power-centered--useful--however contextualized. Nor, when audiences revel in a made thing, are they acting merely out of contextually relevant considerations. Yet we in the humanities seem sometimes to function (and expect the past to function) in a pale world where delight for the sake of itself has been carefully sidelined ("Well, yes, I suppose it happens."). The humanities has taken the passion out of art, reduced it to a series of political constructs and then exhibited surprise and alarm at the result: Why is everything so political and class-oriented? In an attempt to recover passion, artistic works are sometimes further reduced to a series of activist demands; context, authorial intent, is abandoned for politicized relativism. What does it matter what Milton thought--all that matters is how we feel about him, especially if what we feel will get us what we want.

Although individuals will often enter artistic productions for the express purpose of finding relevant applications, what they experience there, what they enjoy, how they enjoy it, determines whether they will return much more than a politicized argument or even a useful emotional platitude. After all, why read, go to movies, watch television at all if only the application carries weight? For C.S. Lewis and many others, the reason is transcendence. In his polemic An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis writes:
Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself . . . Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.(Footnote 10)
The value of a literary work lies in the introduction to a mindset unlike one's own. Wayne Booth echoes this idea in The Company We Keep, where he stresses the dialogic nature of reading. As the reader encounters the text, he develops a relationship with the author. It is the reader's duty to extend magnanimity to the text, to take as much as the text is able to impart, but also to consider what the text has to say. According to Booth, the issue at hand is not whether Huckleberry Finn, for instance, utilizes hegemonic ideologies or draws on particular interpretative structures, but whether we agree with the ideas, themes, possibilities offered us by the author.(Footnote 11)

Arnold Weinstein also emphasizes the "other" quality of artistic works: our desire, through art, to reach beyond ourselves.(Footnote 12) In his book A Scream Goes Through the House, Weinstein argues that the feelings of pain, loss, love within art connect us as human beings. Weinstein is principally interested in the effects of art. Like Joke Hermes and Booth, he envisions a citizenship surrounding artistic productions, social connectivity across space and time.(Footnote 13)

Votary theory too postulates a desire to reach beyond the self, especially a desire to create beyond the self. Readers/spectators engage in fan fiction, on-line debates, conventions, role playing and other such performances. They exchange insights over a work, extrapolate possible outcomes, reject elements of a canon story, and analyze the characters. Although these behaviors are more obvious amongst popular culture fans, such excitement is not confined to a particular "brow"--high, middle, low, academic or popular. Fascination with Dante's Inferno, Shakespeare's Hamlet or Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables is rarely reducible to "good form" and splendid prose. We are entranced, "entangled," as Wolfgang Iser would say.(Footnote 14) We are entranced because we find ourselves wanderers in another's universe. Our entanglement there involves not only self-forgetfulness but a desire to make, complete or satisfy the requirements of that universe.(Footnote 15)

This latter claim separates votary theory from reader response. Wolfgang Iser, for instance, postulates readers who encounter blanks or gaps in an unfolding text. The blanks draw the readers in, forcing the readers to make choices. As they comply, their opinions regarding prior portions of the text are reevaluated while their decisions about future portions of the text are shaped. Reading is a linear engagement. Readers bring their personalities, opinions, plus social relations to the experience, but every response is the consequence of contact with the text.(Footnote 16) The result is a new "text" created by the reader's interaction with the author's intent (as located in the work). This "text," however intangible, is an external object, colored by "what this work means to me" and "what I got out of this experience." It is, in other words, entirely critical.(Footnote 17)

Votary theory also relies on the author's intent as found in a script, performance, book, story, poem. Unlike Iser, votary theory tackles an artistic work not as it is being processed (perhaps for the first time) or as a product of the reading/spectating experience but as it exists, within the individual's perception or memory, in its entirety. Votary theory attempts to address that moment of creative involvement in which process, and result, become supererogatory. The world of the author--whether a physical world like Middle Earth or an emotional world such as found within Kafka's cockroach--is accepted, if not fully grasped, as a whole by the reader/spectator. Within that work as a whole, readers/spectators establish a place for themselves. They become part of the author's world, consequently satisfying their creative desires.

Votary theory builds on a theory presented by C.S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism. Lewis, like Iser, examines reading as a process. He postulates two classes, or types, of readers: those who use and those who receive. Users are those who look only for "the Event" in the book, the vicarious fulfillment of pleasure. They prefer texts that are easily personalized. Unlike users, receivers actively engage the text, reading and rereading it, giving it their whole heart and being altered because of it. "The 'recipient,'" Lewis writes, "wants to rest in [the book's content]. It is for him, at least temporarily, an end."

Lewis argues that rather than criticizing a book by its appellation--popular, highbrow, middlebrow--it should be criticized by the kind of reading or readership it engenders: receivers who enter into the work and allow that work to carry them on the journey as determined by the artist; or, users who treat the work as simply "assistance for [their] own activities," whether those activities be educational, political, social or economic. For users, texts/performances are mere manuals of self-instruction or activism; receivers, on the other hand, give themselves over to the language and world of the author. By Lewis' definition, academics can be as guilty of "using" as any romance reader while a science-fiction reader may behave as a receiver towards her genre of choice. Lewis furthermore protests against earnest readers who, in their attempt to wrest profundity from a text, fail to appreciate its humor or language.(Footnote 18)

The attractiveness of Lewis' argument is his focus on the artistic work as its own reward. Lewis resented educational approaches that reduced or "exposed" the "real" meaning behind the language of a work, thereby bypassing the work's creative offerings. In his literary analysis of Lewis, Alan Jacobs writes, "Lewis rails against [teaching skepticism rather than teaching a desire for truth], because he believes that in the long run this abdication of responsibility--the responsibility to seek knowledge--will lead to the 'abolition of man,' our transformation into a species unable ever to hear the music that Creation really does make." Here Jacobs reveals Lewis as a true formalist, with the typical Lewis' twist.(Footnote 19)

The reader/spectator of votary theory is a combination of Lewis' receiver and user. In behavior, the individual of votary theory appears like the receiver, swept along by the narrative--fearless, consenting, and generously willing to adopt the author's vision. Like the user, however, the individual rates satisfaction/fulfillment as a primary goal; he or she is not above manipulating a text (as much as it can be manipulated) or discarding texts until a good fit is found. The reader/spectator of votary theory is searching for a home, a place wherein to work out the creative desire. The importance of the work as a whole in this search cannot be underestimated. Creativity does not, as so many college freshmen seem to think, entail a lack of discipline. Once I am inside a work, I am held to its structure. I make a place for myself, but I cannot simply transform the work into a pliable piece of self-involvement. Whether or not I know the original author's intent, I am constrained by the work's shape as I am constrained by the shape of my living quarters. I may decorate my studio apartment according to my personal whims; I cannot alter the age or structure of the house in which my apartment resides--not without changing it, irrevocably, into something else. This forced organization is, to a great extent, the appeal of artistic works: I exercise my creativity within the confines of another mind.(Footnote 20)

Without understanding this desire, and the homes in which it roosts, much of our culture is practically (in the practical sense) incomprehensible. To a greater or lesser extent, we all--readers, spectators and artists--search beyond ourselves, partly for self-definition but also for self-production. Our participation in a book, movie, poem, television show enables us to make some thing. Our participation is personal, hands-on, engaged; yet, it is also objective and inventive.

Votary Theory as Tool

Votary theory begins with the reality of the individual; it postulates a creative desire on the part of that individual. Votary theory then suggests that a fundamental element of audience enjoyment is the ability of individuals to create inside an artistic work. We are not simply all voyeuristically bent on satisfying social needs: power, status, change. We desire to create; we exercise our desire through our own creations and within the works of others. Votary theory further suggests that this desire is fundamental to the human experience; without it, no artistic work can truly be understood.

Votary theory is a tool which brings together factors which, in the humanities, are too often held apart. The job of the humanities scholar is to understand artistic works, both their contexts (container) and their content (creative essence). A good scholar should never abandon context entirely for content; on the other hand, humanities scholars are often so busy dismantling texts in the search for context (or, rather, culture), they fail to be readers/spectators and enjoy the content. They forget, and sometimes even belittle, the staggering grandeur of artistic works: the poetic language, the well-crafted scene, the thoughtful characterization. Votary theory submits an approach that applies context without reducing works to mere contextual productions. As in religion, as in love, as in any transcendent moment, something else is going on.

To that end, votary theory presents three questions which will enable the humanities scholar to reach a complete understanding of an artistic work:

1. What is the historical context? What do we know about the time and place in which this work was generated? What do we know about the author and the author's intent?

2. What would readers/spectators have encountered when they engaged the work? What ambiance surrounded it? How was it treated by critics, other reviewers? How was it produced? Advertised?

3. Within a historical context (Question 1), faced with a particular form of engagement (Question 2), how might readers/spectators have exercised their creative desires? How might they have made a place for themselves within a work?

In answering the last question, humanities scholars will hopefully learn to appreciate artistic works at the creative level. Once individuals enter a work, we must rely on our glimpse--our sense--of their experience there. In its final stages, votary theory is entirely theoretical. In many cases, it is simply not possible to interview long-dead spectators, peppering them with surveys about their imaginative desires. Nor would such an approach be entirely appropriate (although it could certainly be done with a contemporary audience). Votary theory attempts to combine a moment in time (scene of a play, page of a book) with that moment's aura or quality (the creative desire flowing between the participant and the work). Many reader/spectator response surveys focus on the meaning or impact of a work to an individual after the event; the issue of creative excitement is rarely addressed; it is uncertain that it could be. As a teacher of English Composition, I have learned that artistic enjoyment is not always communicable. "I liked the characters," students tell me as we wrestle over literary analysis essays. "Why?" I ask, fully armed with my humanist analytical training. They don't know. They're not sure. They tell me how they feel, and I translate their language into a passable thesis. But I am aware, as they are, that my language may not be entirely accurate. Creative involvement is an elusive experience.

Consequently, the efficacy of votary theory is best proved through application. I have selected two works: The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster and the film, Late for Dinner. Both works are relevant to the American landscape and will be examined within that context. The Duchess of Malfi, although written circa 1612 by Englishman John Webster, did not appear in America until the mid-nineteenth century. It was performed sporadically on and off Broadway for the next 100 years. I will examine it specifically within the context of its 1946 production in New York City and will introduce an imagined 1946 spectator as part of votary theory application.

Late for Dinner is a more recent Hollywood film (1991) which uses cryonics as its central plot device. Although cryonics is a world-wide cause, the United States contains the largest number of cryonics organizations and the only cryonics organizations that freeze people. I will be examining the film as it might be examined by a future humanities scholar. The creative experience of a Late for Dinner spectator at the moment of engagement will be presented.

The fourth chapter of my thesis will also concern an artistic work, The Last Promise by Richard Paul Evans. In this chapter, I will examine the relationship between language and votary theory. One of the overwhelming worries of critical theory, especially those theories which excise creativity from the artistic equation, is the power of language and aesthetic enjoyment. These worries are not only held by members of the academic elite. The Last Promise was removed from LDS-run bookstores for its possible negative influence on Mormon readers. I will address the issue within the context of Mormonism and as an active Mormon but will present votary theory as a tool that renders these fears irrelevant for the humanities scholar. In this chapter, the possibility of individual audience interviews will be tackled in more detail.

Votary theory does not answer all the problems encountered by the humanities scholar, who seeks to understand a work's context as well as its creative essence. Rather, votary theory functions as one possible approach, a position within the strands of human connection. It is an enlightenment tool, but it works precisely because it does not insist that enlightened messages must be embedded in artistic works or that artistic works must be linked to enlightened theories. Individuals of the past or present do not need to see what we see (or want to see) in order for us to credit their experiences. Their motives do not need to be ideological, powerful or historically significant in order to have merit. Creativity is a good enough reason to study a work. More than anything, votary theory is an attempt to restore balance to the study of artistic works. We need to drag our appreciation of such works away from their enslavement to hegemonies and hidden messages to a more holistic, and wholesome, position. The study of power has some merit, but in its demand for attention, the individual's creative desire is often bypassed, shoveled off to the side. Votary theory wishes to restore that desire to a position of respect.
1. Dana Polan, "Brief Encounters: Mass Culture and the Evacuation of Sense" in Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture, ed. Tania Modleski (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 167.

2. Barthes' approach is summed up in John Fiske's Understanding Popular Culture (New York: Routledge, 1989), 54-55. Comments about the Catch-22 exhibited by theorists, who attack Western culture while relying on it, arise in several contexts. Dana Polan in "Brief Encounters" states, "[B]oth Kaminsky and Eizykman share in the ideological binary opposition of mass culture and avant-garde culture," pointing out that despite their differing analysis, the two critics depend on the same assumption that "mass culture is essentially the regime of content, theme, the formulaic regularity of simple explanatory myths, an art tied to the givens of an everyday world," 168. In an essay from the same book, Tania Modleski warns against feminist scholars who attack the dominant ideology; she points out that women, in many artistic contexts, are connected with the dominant ideology: to attack the dominant ideology in art will be to attack women. "The Terror of Pleasure: The Contemporary Horror Film and Postmodern Theory," 163-164. Although these criticisms of postmodernism are recent, the Catch-22 of postmodernism was acknowledged early on. In a 1930s English murder mystery by Dorothy Sayers, her detective, Peter Wimsey encounters a group of Marxist musicians who promote a "soul of rebellion" in their music. Another spectator scoffs; their "Bourgeois music [has] "resolution at the back of all [its] discords . . . Till you can cast away the octave and its sentimental associations, you walk in fetters of convention." Ever obliging, Wimsey agrees: "That's the spirit. I would dispense with all definite notes . . . It is only man, trammeled by a stultifying convention--" at which point Wimsey has to go solve the murder. It is just as well. As Wimsey fully knows, if his suggestion were taken, it would do away with the discussion, not to mention the music. Critical attacks on conventions must beware, else in banishing all forms of convention, they banish themselves as well. Dorothy Sayers, Strong Poison (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1995), 84.

3. Joke Hermes, Re-reading Popular Culture (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 8.

4. Butsch, for example, argues against the idea that audiences are passive, unable to "manage mass media." Richard Bustch, The Making of American Audiences: From Stage to Television, 1750-1990 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 280. Mukerji and Schudson point out that Marxist-influenced theories tend to "obscure the complex ways people make sense of and use their tastes" in Rethinking Popular Culture: Contemporary Perspective in Cultural Studies, Chandra Mukerji and Michael Schudson, eds. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 34. Janet Staigner argues that "scholars may get further in analyses once they stop assuming that individuals have one, logical relation to the movies." Jane Staigner, Interpreting Films: Studies in the Historical Reception of American Cinema (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 12. However, Staigner also argues that individual agency is a nineteenth/twentieth century concept and relies on Stanley Fish's theory of interpretive frames.

5. Fiske, 50.

6. Susan Bennett, Theatre Audiences: A Theory of Production and Reception (New York: Routledge, 1990), 177-182.

7. Hermes, vii; Staigner, 210-211.

8. Butsch, 292.

9. It is likely, for instance, that Beatrix Potter never would have written a word if she had not wanted a life independent from her parents. The creative desire, which emerged in her watercolors and stories, may simply have found a different outlet--as it did later in her life when she focused all her energies on her farm.

10. C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), 140-141.

11. Wayne Booth, The Company We Keep (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 135.

12. In fact, an encounter with the "Other" (another world, mindset, set of experiences) is a recurring refrain in writers as diverse as C.S. Lewis, Kathleen Rooney, Wayne Booth, Camille Paglia, Dorothy Sayers, Umberto Eco, Alberto Manguel. Votary theory postulates that (1) this experience, encounter, is not limited to authors and critics--they just happen to be more articulate when it comes to explaining it; (2) the experience is often perceived as a result rather a moment of creative engagement; votary theory examines the moment.

13. Arnold Weinstein, A Scream Goes Through the House (New York: Random House, 1988), xxi.

14. Wolfgang Iser, "The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach," in Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism, ed. Jane Tompkins (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1980), 65.

15. A great deal of fan fiction takes place "off-screen," that is, during periods of time not covered by the original text (book or television series), either during the summer (when television series go into re-runs) or after a series (book or television) has ended. Although the fan fiction contains "off-screen" material, it is often measured (by fellow fans) by how well the writer has captured the characters as determined by the original text. Has the fan writer remained true to the author's universe, vision?

16. Iser, 54.

17. Similarly, certain types of criticism produce creations, new texts, themselves. The object of votary theory, however, is to examine the creative desire not in its parasitic use of works but in its symbolic conjunction with works.

18. Lewis, 88-89.

19. Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis (San Francisco: Harper, 2005), 174, emphasis in text. Lewis' art for art's sake stance never descended into an attack on popular culture. He did detest modern poetry, for almost unfathomable reasons, but in general he could be surprisingly non-elitist.

20. The image of reader/spectator inside the artist's world is not a new concept. The issues of distance and connection bridge both literary and performance theory; film and theater scholars often refer back to critical and reader response theories, applying similar concepts and rules to various types of production. Daphna Ben Chaim goes so far as to compare novels, film and theatre. In the film and the novel, the narrative is controlled by a point of view. The reader/spectator of a novel/film has to make a more concerted effort to climb inside the story, to see it from another perspective, than the spectator of a play. Yet Ben Chaim argues that the experience of the theater compared to film is "really one of differing degrees, not of opposition." We can apply the same generous attitude to texts. After all, like the play and film, a novel cannot be enjoyed until it is engaged. All artistic works, to an extent, rely on an appreciative (or angry) participant. Daphna Ben Chaim, Distance in the Theatre: The Aesthetics of Audience Response (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1984), 56.