Mormon Inquiry

Mormon Inquiry

Three rules of religious understanding

Krister Stendahl died earlier this year (hat tip: Lehi’s Library).
He was a Swedish scholar and theologian, and also served for a period
as the Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm. In LDS circles, he is fondly
remembered as the author of three rules of religious understanding,
which he propounded during public debate critical of a planned LDS
temple in Sweden. They are good rules to follow in any religious or
interfaith conversation. Here are Stendahl’s three rules.

  • When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
  • Don’t compare your best to their worst.
  • Leave room for “holy envy.” (By this Stendahl meant that you should
    be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or
    faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your
    own religious tradition or faith.)
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posted November 25, 2008 at 11:32 am

These rules are right up there with Asimovs Three Rules of Robotics and all of the other rules of thumb and standards for living.
These should be posted at the TOP of every B’net comment page!

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posted November 26, 2008 at 10:43 am

These excellent rules also extend beyond the present, as they apply to understanding the history of a religion as well. They even go beyond religion, and apply to understanding any other culture, or group. I’d modify rule 1 a bit, as I don’t think you have to be an adherent of a religion or culture to understand it well; Jan Shipps is someone you could ask about Mormon culture and get a good answer (yes, because she applies these rules as she goes about it). It’s also crucial not only to expect outsiders to apply the rules when trying to understand us, but to use them ourselves when interacting with them. I hear many complaints that outsiders don’t understand us, and those are often legitimate complaints, but then I hear from Mormons various stereotypes and judgments of outsiders that are just as ill-informed. Maybe we should even apply the rules to understand people who are gay…

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Martin Willey

posted November 26, 2008 at 4:14 pm

I had never heard these rules but they are really great.

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Kim Reece-Lairson

posted November 28, 2008 at 1:05 am

Too bad Krister Stendahl was opposed to a temple in Sweden, maybe he had holy envy.

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