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  Wednesday, February 25, 2004

  The Play's the Thing

There was an interesting discussion over at Times and Seasons a couple of months ago asking (more or less) why there aren't more Mormon superstars in the arts and sciences?  Given the LDS stress on education and achievement, one might expect a bit more, although in certain fields -- business, law, sports, politics -- Mormons do seem to be well represented.

There's a nice article on this theme by John and Kirsten Rector over at Dialogue, entitled What is the Challenge for LDS Scholars and Artists?  (There was a link to this in the earlier T&S post, but I missed it.)  I thought the Dialogue article is a nice, balanced consideration of the question.  The top three reasons they give for the alleged shortage are the LDS insistence on spending time with spouse and family; the LDS dedication to "conventionality, orthodoxy, and adherence to authority"; and the LDS weakness (not unique) for dogmatic thinking.   I would add that these same factors go far toward explaining LDS success in the other areas I mentioned above.  A conservative mindset stressing family, orthodoxy, deference to authority, and focused thinking will take you a long way on the road to success in business, politics, law, and sports.  Nor does it hurt if you're interested in climbing the LDS priesthood leadership ladder, not generally known for elevating creative thinkers or iconoclasts.

On the other hand, how many of us would trade the average anonymous-but-happy Mormon life (first spouse and four kids in three-bedroom home with two-car garage) for one of academic or artistic celebrity (fourth spouse and one step-kid in two-bedroom condo three blocks from campus or studio)?  Okay, you can fiddle with the numbers if you like, but stereotypes aside, I can't say I'd change my lifestyle choices, conventional though they may be, if some magic genie dangled before me the prospect of becoming a bona fide footnote to history.  I have some sense of what one gives up to get there and I just don't think that's a choice I would make.  I know where we all go in the long run, and I'm quite content to get there by my own little path.  Anyway, here's a sample paragraph from the Dialogue essay:

To be sure, we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not have the market cornered on dogmatism or close-mindedness. Just as there can be dogmatic Mormons, there can be dogmatic philosophers, scientists, atheists, liberals, conservatives, and so forth. But because there is so much in the storehouse of insights the restored gospel provides, we as members of the church can easily be lulled into believing that we have all the significant answers. We may not feel any need to question or re-examine our viewpoints, nor approach the world around us in an open, self-questioning, inquisitive way. To the extent that we are dogmatic, we limit ourselves as artists and scholars. 10:35:14 PM      

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