“Intellectual Rebirth,” New Era, Aug. 1974, 4
If we had two or three hours to talk about it, we might enumerate some of the tremendous advantages that we have in being members of the Church and in doing those things that the Lord has indicated would be for our benefit. We have a lot of other opportunities as well. I have discovered as I have gone along in life that you can be born again as many times as you would like to be born. Someone asked Phillips Brooks one time, “When were you born?” He said, “I’ll tell you about it. It was one Sunday afternoon about 3:30 when I was 25 years old, just after I had finished reading a great book.”
We are counseled to seek learning and gain education for several purposes, but one of them is to involve ourselves in a love for and a knowledge of great books. And we ought to be born again a great many times as a consequence. You are involved with a large number of great teachers and important philosophies that will also help you to be born again.
One of the most pleasant and productive experiences in my life happened in 1943 as the Japanese war was taking place. I heard Dr. Adam S. Bennion give a lecture on the value of great literature. You can sell the idea of the value of great ideas to anyone. That is, we all believe that we should be acquainted with great human thought. But almost everyone gets away from its benefit by saying that he doesn’t have time to read. To get away from this objection of not having time, Dr. Bennion said, “Suppose that you were going to be a prisoner in a Japanese concentration camp for the next four years and you could take with you the works of any ten authors. Which would you take, and what would you expect to get out of them?” That is, what are the values of great ideas, of great literature? His idea was to take the ten authors you would most like to resemble and then exhaust each one in turn. That is, you would read every thought and consider every idea that a particular author had ever recorded; you would rethink his every idea. The psychologists say that when you run an idea through your brain, it makes a little groove or engram. If you run through your mind the kind of ideas that went through the mind of Shakespeare or Emerson or the apostle Paul or Moses or Jesus of Nazareth, then your brain will tend to respond as their brains did.
From someplace I got the courage to make the start. I guess Shakespeare comes fairly close to the top of most people’s lists of great authors. So I got out Shakespeare’s 37 plays, his sonnets, and his poems and went to work. Reading them was pretty difficult at first. I read very slowly and perhaps not very comprehendingly. Shakespeare wrote a long time ago, and there were many things that I did not understand. I had to reread some things several times, look up their meanings, and ask people about them. But finally the clouds began to part, a little bit of the sunlight began to come through, and I had a tremendous experience with Shakespeare. Shakespeare looked with clearer insight into human life than do most men. He said his purpose in writing was to hold the mirror up to life, to show virtue her own image and scorn her own likeness. He said, “I your looking-glass will be and will modestly discover to yourself qualities which you yourself know not of.” I had a great uplift as I read his speeches and his arguments for success. And as he pictured life in miniature with his great characters acting and reacting upon each other, I was intellectually born again—a great many times. Each time we discover some inspiring thought, we can be changed, and changed for the better.
I always read with my pen, marking every idea, every phrase, every quote, and every other thing that I think will help me. And then I put these thoughts into my notebooks. One of my most valuable possessions in the world is my collection of 25 notebooks. They are just regular 8 1/2-by-11-inch page size, three-ring binders, with about 300 pages in each one; so I have 7,500 pages of notes. I think of my reading as a combine harvester sweeping across a field of wheat. It cuts everything before it, but throws out the weeds and the chaff and the straw and puts the wheat in the sack. If I were now going to read something that would be particularly exciting to me, it wouldn’t be Shakespeare, it wouldn’t be Emerson, it wouldn’t even be the scriptures. It would be my notes, because I have selected for my notes those things that particularly inspire me.
I have always felt a little bit cheated in my life that no one has ever tried to talk me out of my faith. I have heard many people say that they got into the wrong crowd or listened to the wrong professor or were influenced by the wrong philosophy. But everywhere I have gone, people have encouraged me to live my religion. Once I thought that maybe I believed as I did just because I didn’t know any better, so I got the complete works of Robert G. Ingersoll. In my opinion Robert G. Ingersoll was the greatest atheist, if you could use that term, that ever lived in the world. I don’t know how convincing other people’s atheism is, but Robert G. Ingersoll was a great salesman. He was a great orator. He was a great architect of speech. He knew how to put ideas together. If anybody could persuade me about something, I think maybe it would have been Robert G. Ingersoll. His complete works are made up of 19,900 pages. There are 214 pages in my New Testament, so I read 90 new testaments of atheism. I didn’t read his works to try to out-argue him or to find fault with them. I read them actually to try to help him persuade me that there was something better than those things that I believed. I read him very carefully. I don’t skip read. I don’t jump over things or just read things that I think will be interesting. If something is important enough for him to write down, it is important enough for me to study and to try to find out the right answer to the subject discussed. And in all of my experiences in reading his work, he hasn’t shaken my faith in the smallest degree. Since that time I have read 987 of the great books, and I have had some tremendous experiences in a lot of different directions with what I have read. These great new philosophies have enabled me to have an “intellectual rebirth.”