Strangers in Paradox: Explorations in Mormon Theology

Strangers in Paradox is a stimulating and sometimes aggravating book. Its chapters, divided among five parts, are interrelated essays about deity and humanity; the first two essays are introductory, the next seventeen cumulative, and the last four supplementary. Its authors, a wife-husband team, are specialists in the humanities, Hebrew, and law and are knowledgeable about the popular “alternate voices” in the Sunstone sphere of contemporary Mormonism. The Toscanos modestly affirm that “this is not a systematic theology, nor is it reflective of mainstream Mormon thought” (xi). They successfully accomplish their goal “to be clear and thought-provoking without being strident or dogmatic” (xi). Among the many provocative ideas in what critics may dismiss as simply a brief for giving women the priesthood is this: “Because godhood is the highest and final dimension of priesthood and because godhood is male and female, it follows that priesthood must be male and female as well” (152).

The intriguing title derives from Joseph Smith’s 1844 assertion that “by proving contraries, truth is made manifest” (1, citing History of the Church 6:428). Accepting a definition of paradox as a statement that seems contradictory but may be true in fact, the Toscanos have written a book to show that “by examining various, even contrary views, new truths may be revealed” (1). Many of the contraries discussed in the book do not qualify semantically as paradoxes, being propositions in conflict (salvation is by grace, not works) rather than internally contradictory propositions (Jesus is God and man). With some exceptions, the authors’ method is to transform “either/or” conflicts between religious ideas into “both/and” amalgams: “It is not in the elimination of extremes that life comes forth, but in their tension and balance, where contraries come into accord” (248). Readers will differ on the plausibility of the results, but they are frequently reminded that individual freedom, one of the book’s central themes, gives them that right. The Toscanos speak only for themselves, and they “reserve the right to change [their] minds, even on fundamentals” (15).

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 31:2
Purchase this Issue