Dallin Oaks, a senior leader of the church of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the former president of Brigham Young University, recently urged students at Harvard University to take a serious, deeper approach to religion. According to an article by Carrie Sheffield and Jamshid Askar in Salt Lake City’s Desert News:

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.

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.’”

Oaks’s talk was attended mostly by students at Harvard’s divinity and law schools. Oaks may be right that American higher education encourages people to look at religion in a shallow way but it’ll probably be a long time before higher education changes for the better. Or, at any rate, it’ll be long time before Americans have a profound and positive understanding of Mormonism.

As Oaks, who is a former law professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School and former justice of the Utah Supreme Court, explained:

We Mormons know that our doctrines and values are not widely understood by those not of our faith. This was demonstrated by Gary Lawrence’s nationwide study published in his recent book, How Americans View Mormonism. Three-quarters of those surveyed associated our Church with high moral standards, but about half thought we were secretive and mysterious and had “weird beliefs.”

“Secretive” and “mysterious” are perhaps perceptions that the LDS church can address. As to the other part, it’s going to be really difficult to convince the world that members of the church don’t actually hold weird beliefs.

Less than two percent of Americans are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer