In view of the discussion that has taken place here I thought these passages from Leonard Arrington's diaries might be of interest:
A key stage in my own reconciliation of modern learning with religious belief came with reading George Santayana, The Life of Reason: Reason in Religion.2 The book was published in 1936 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, and I apparently bought it in 1937 and read most of it very carefully and appreciatively.3 The book was very influential for me; it helped me to see that one might be a sincere believer in Mormonism and at the same time accept the findings of the brightest intellects, whether in philosophy, or science, or the humanities. (Of course, Santayana says nothing about Mormonism as such, and quite possibly had no knowledge of it.) In particular, Reason and Religion helped me to understand that it isn’t important whether certain religious or theological affirmations are truths in a literal sense, or whether they are true in a symbolic or poetic sense. And while religious doctrines may be right symbolically, they should not be substituted for scientific truth. At the same time, those who accept scientific truth as the only truth, as the final truth, end up substituting inadequate personal symbols which are unsatisfying and unedifying. Santayana introduced me to the idea of “myth”—to “mythical truth,”—which is a very satisfying concept. Religion may contain a symbolic, not a literal, representation of truth and life. And for this reason one has no difficulty in trying to harmonize religious assertions with scientific “truth.” In the Christian Epic, one may believe in the Virgin Birth in a symbolic sense, without worrying about the literal truth of it or whether such a thing was possible in the real world. In the Mormon Epic, one may believe in the First Vision without worrying unduly as to whether God and Jesus literally appeared in person to Joseph Smith, or whether he thought he saw them in a mystical sense. Did the plates of the Book of Mormon exist in a concrete literal sense or did they exist in a symbolic sense? I feel comfortable either way. I was stimulated to make this diary entry by reading Scott Kenney’s article “A Defense of the Christian Faith,” which is in the Sunstone which just came out today.4 The following fit right into the thoughts to which Santayana turned me to[,] back in 1937 or 1938: The Scriptures are not themselves divine revelation. They are merely the human testimonies of divine revelation. Modern man does not live only by abstract reasoning, but also by stories and images. We should not exorcize the pictorial, mythical, symbolical elements from religion as if men had only ears and not eyes, as if being stirred could ever be replaced by intellectual comprehension. Truth is not simply facticity. A newspaper report of a traveler attacked on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho would perhaps leave us quite cold, even if it were truth, historically true. On the other hand, the invented story of the Good Samaritan on the same road stirs us immediately, since it contains more truth. Many Mormons miss the power of the Restoration message by attempting to abstract its teachings from their historical context. The ultimate criterion of a person’s Christian spirit is not theory but practice: not how he thinks of teachings, dogmas, interpretations, but how he acts in ordinary life.
Bergera, Gary James. Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971–1997, Volume 2, Centrifugal Forces, 1975–80 . Signature Books. Kindle Edition.
One’s testimony of the Gospel is an intensely personal thing. Arguing with it is like arguing with his or her choice of a spouse, his or her taste in art, his or her preference for Verdi over Wagner.
—July 9, 1985
Bergera, Gary James. Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971–1997, Volume 3, Exile, 1980–97 . Signature Books. Kindle Edition.