Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What is Religious About Literature?

     Religion. It addresses questions of existence: Where did we come from? Why are we here? It is concerned with human morality: What is good? What is evil? What lies in the between, in the morally gray? Is there even such a thing? Religion seeks to “explain, to justify, to reconcile, to interpret, to [give] comfort.”[1] And all these things, are they not the same things that literature attempts to do? Therefore, the answer to the question of what is religious about literature is a fairly simple one in my own personal view. What makes literature religious is its ability to transcend us; to elevate the human mind (such as religion does) to higher places where questions of existence, of morality, of the universe, of the overall human experience, are explored.
     Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Voltaire, Austen, Hugo, Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Twain, Orwell, Wild, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck—all are authors of great literature. They are explorers of human emotions (passion, love, fear, hate), of mans’ freedom of will, of sin, of righteousness, of deliverance, of identity, of reason, of insanity—of the human experience. What can be more transcending, more religious than the exploration of these things, the things that make up life? This is what is religious about literature—the examination of life and the transcendent and elevated place our minds can reach through the truths discovered in this examination.
     If literature can be religious, it would make sense to suppose that religion can not only help us see how literature is religious, but encourage the idea that literature—good literature—is religious. Mormonism, in my own opinion, does in fact do this. As a Mormon myself, I think I can say that Mormonism not only aids us in seeing that religious dimension to literature, but actually encourages us to be enlightened, influenced for good, and elevated to higher places by wholesome literature.
     Our scriptures state, “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”[2] Wherever we can find truth and wisdom, God encourages us to seek after it. Our leaders of the church have also made it clear to us that “In the kingdom of God, the search for truth is appreciated, encouraged, and in no way repressed or feared,” and that “Church members are strongly counseled by the Lord himself to seek knowledge.”[3] With these encouragements then, I believe that Mormonism does indeed allow us to see a religious aspect to literature, and for that I’m grateful because literature is truly wonderful, inspiring, elevating, and religious through its ability to transcend and lift us to higher places by exploring life, the human experience, and all that goes with it. It imparts wisdom and truths to our minds, and for that it’s great and worthwhile of our time.    

1. “Religion and Literature.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College. <>.   
2.. Doctrine and Covenants 88:118
3. Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitus. “If Ye Lack Wisdom.” April 2014 General Conference.