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BYU Studies Quarterly

BYU Studies Quarterly

Abstract

The power and viability of symbolism is often lost on the American psyche and also finds mixed reception by American LDS audiences. It is as if the essential pragmatism of the American spirit militates against the very appearance of ambiguity in all its forms. Symbolism and metaphor comprise the tools-in-trade of skillful meaning making and the explication of profound truths in both word and image. Alonzo Gaskill, a professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, makes the observation that Latter-day Saints do not always like symbolism. He references Truman Madsen, who recalled: "I had a built-in hostility to ritual and to symbolism. I was taught by people both in and out of the Church--with good intention, I have no doubt--that we don't believe in pagan ceremony: we don't believe in all these procedures and routines; that's what they did in the ancient apostate church; we've outgrown all of that" (5). As a consequence, Gaskill claims, in the words of LDS scholar Suzanne E. Lundquist, that we Latter-day Saints "have become an asymbolic society, and, as a result, we do not understand the power of our own rites of passage" and make little effort to "understand the meanings of our own rituals or what ritual behavior implies." Lundquist adds that we fail "to comprehend or internalize the messages contained in ritual symbols."

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