Don't marginalize religion, Elder Oaks says to Harvard law students

By Carrie Sheffield and Jamshid Askar

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Feb. 27 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks to Harvard University students at the 300-seat room inside the Ames Courtroom at Austin Hall Friday. The audience was comprised largely of students at Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Law School.

Whitney Cutler, for the Deseret News

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Elder Dallin H. Oaks urged Harvard students on Friday to take more than a superficial approach to religion, an approach he said is exacerbated by the secular American university system.

Noting that speaking to such a diverse audience is a challenge, Elder Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said, "My object is to illuminate several premises and ways of thinking that are at the root of some misunderstandings about our doctrine and practice."

Elder Oaks acknowledged that LDS doctrines and values are not widely understood by those not of the LDS faith, and said that his disappointment with that "is only slightly reduced" by research that shows "that on the subject of religion Americans in general are 'deeply religious' but 'profoundly ignorant.'"

Elder Oaks was introduced by Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon, the faculty adviser for the LDS student group (Harvard Law School does not have an LDS professor). Glendon is a devout Catholic and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

Elder Oaks said the higher education system was partly to blame for prevailing ignorance about many aspects of Christianity and other religions.

"Many factors contribute to our people's predominant shallowness on the subject of religion, but one of them is surely higher education's general hostility or indifference to religion," he said. "Despite most colleges' and universities' founding purpose to produce clergymen and to educate in the truths taught in their chapels, most have now abandoned their role of teaching religion.

"With but few exceptions, colleges and universities have become value-free places where attitudes toward religion are neutral at best. Some faculty and administrators are powerful contributors to the forces that are driving religion to the margins of American society. Students and other religious people who believe in the living reality of God and moral absolutes are being marginalized."

"(I)t seems unrealistic to expect higher education as a whole to resume a major role in teaching moral values," Elder Oaks said. "The academy can pretend to neutrality on questions of right and wrong, but society cannot survive on such neutrality."

Elder Oaks said he chose "three clusters of truths to present as fundamental premises of the faith of Latter-day Saints." Those clusters are:

The nature of God, including the role of the three members of the Godhead, and the corollary truth that there are moral absolutes.

The purpose of life.

The three-fold sources of truth about man and the universe: science, the scriptures and continuing revelation, and how we can know them.

"Our theology begins with the assurance that we lived as spirits before we came to this earth," he said. "It affirms that this mortal life has a purpose. And it teaches that our highest aspiration is to become like our Heavenly Parents, which will empower us to perpetuate our family relationships throughout eternity.

"We affirm that marriage is necessary for the accomplishment of God's plan, to provide the approved setting for mortal birth and to prepare family members for eternal life.

"There are many political, legal and social pressures for changes that de-emphasize the importance or change the definition of marriage, confuse gender or homogenize the differences between men and women that are essential to accomplish God's great plan of happiness. Our eternal perspective sets us against such changes."

Elder Oaks also explained why personal revelation is such a fundamental premise to Mormons.

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