Revelation Bias Fair and Balanced Part 1

Jun 04, 12 Revelation Bias Fair and Balanced Part 1

Sometimes only America’s favorite family, the Simpsons, can most accurately demonstrate a point in the most simple and humorous terms. The full Simpsons’ episode that I am using to introduce my post is here if you want to watch it. If you’ve seen the episode and just want to watch the segment I’ll be referencing, go to 8:52 to see Lisa in the role of Joan of Arc. Pay close attention to 13:51 where Joan of Arc is captured and stands trial.

Joan of Arc played by Lisa Simpson

Joan of Arc played by Lisa Simpson

So to summarize, Joan of Arc, while praying, hears the voice of God telling her to lead the French in battle against the English. She takes up the battle proclaiming her divine mission. She is then captured and brought to trial by an English soldier (played by Willy, the Scottish janitor at Lisa’s school). During the trial Lisa calls God as her first witness. As God testifies, He is confronted by both the defense (the French) and the prosecution (the English). Both parties allege that He told them to do the exact
same thing – lead their armies to victory against each other. God then leaves the room saying, “I didn’t think you would be in the same room at the same time”.

After we have had a little chuckle, we might wonder what God’s intent would be in giving the exact same instructions to two opposing parties (in this historically inaccurate portrayal, both believed it to be God’s will) when it obviously wasn’t going to end well for one party. To have massive bloodshed and death? To cause pain and suffering? But did God really reveal to the English that they needed to wage battle against the French? Did God  really reveal to Joan of Arc that she needed to defeat the English? Did she just make it all up for political advantage, or to rally the troops, or did she truly believe that it was instruction from God? She told a pretty convincing story about some Saints telling her to drive out the English… Was she just crazy? What was it really?

Obviously we can never truly know what happened to Joan of Arc, whether or not she had divine revelation, and that is exactly the point I am trying to make. How do we know what is truly revelation? So much of it has the potential to become distorted when man is involved because, well, we are human. We are not perfect. We misunderstand. We misinterpret. Our lives and experiences become deeply ingrained in how we interpret everything that comes at us – for good or bad.

Before things get too deep, let’s talk about revelation. What is revelation? Here is William Lane Craig’s definition: “Revelation means the unveiling of something hidden so that it may be seen and known for what it is. Revelation is disclosure of something, the uncovering of something…God’s mind and will on any particular subject.” (William Lane Craig; Defenders Podcast) Craig goes on to identify different types of revelation as follows:

General revelation: People look to nature, or morality as a sign that there is a God. General revelation doesn’t give any details about Jesus Christ, his death or who he was. I think we can all agree that everyone has access to this and no special authority is needed for general revelation…Fingerprints of the potter in the clay, brushes in a painting, or God’s hand in nature and all his creations.

Special revelation: Special revelation is more specific, it reveals things like Jesus is the son of God, Jesus atoned for your sins, etc.

To receive revelation from God, there must be a human involved and any time you get humans involved with anything there is a filter – a human bias, for good and for bad. While being interviewed, Richard Bushman, author of Rough Stone Rolling and also stake patriarch, lamented that it was more difficult to bless his family members than it was to bless total strangers when giving a patriarchal blessing. Why? Because in giving a blessing to a family member he wanted the absolute best for them. So, it seemed to be more Richard speaking than inspiration. Anyone that has given a baby blessing or any other blessing can relate to this at some level I think.

Do we have errors even when we are dealing with godly matters?  Absolutely. We are human, that’s what we do! As humans, we obviously lack the capacity to fully grasp heavenly concepts. I imagine the all-knowing God has to “dumb down” his communication quite a bit, or even just give us bits at a time in order for us to begin to understand his will “according to our language, unto our understanding” (2 Ne. 31:3).  God accommodates us by speaking to our level of understanding. How much would he reveal to someone in Africa vs. someone in Mexico or Germany? Would he package the message differently? I would argue yes. I think culture, language, understanding, and education could definitely be some of the factors that influence what is revealed, how it is revealed and how much is revealed.

Brigham Young said:

“I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities . . . ” (Journal of Discourses 2:314)

So we are dealing with a human filter in any communication with God. A simple example of this is when we discuss scripture with different people: they point something out in the wording that strikes them differently; they have a different interpretation than you even though you’ve read the same scripture yourself a million times. Because of things such as personal upbringing, phases in life, trials, and/or worldviews, a person will naturally interpret and apply things differently than someone else reading or seeing the same thing.

In Jared Anderson’s paper “Expectation and Revelation: Preparing the Way for LDS Biblical Studies,” he states:

Again, I suggest that God conforms revelation to the recipients expectations, world view, and language, and that this model best explains conflicts between scripture and scholarship. This concept may trouble the handful of us conscious of these difficulties, but from a salvation and communication perspective, it is the most efficient way for God to transmit spiritual truth. We as scholars are concerned with accuracy and historicity defined in a narrow sense, but such is not the case with the majority of God’s audience. When God grants his child a revelation, he is not going to sideswipe them with unexpected historical niceties. A vision recounted by Orson Whitney illustrates my point. This mystical experience is spiritually efficient and emotionally powerful, but sets off a few alarms in the corridor of historical criticism.

“Then came a marvelous manifestation, and admonition from a higher source, one impossible to ignore. It was a dream, or a vision in a dream, as I lay upon my bed in the little town of Columbia, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I seemed to be in the Garden of Gethsemane, a witness of the Savior’s agony. I saw Him as plainly as ever I have seen anyone. Standing behind a tree in the foreground, I beheld Jesus, with Peter, James and John, as they came through a little wicket gate at my right. Leaving the three Apostles there, after telling them to kneel and pray, the Son of God passed over to the other side, where He also knelt and prayed. It was the same prayer with which all Bible readers are familiar: ‘Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.’

“As He prayed the tears streamed down His face, which was toward me. I was so moved at the sight that I also wept, out of pure sympathy. My whole heart went out to Him; I loved Him with all my soul, and longed to be with Him as I longed for nothing else…He offered up the same prayer as before; then went back and again found them sleeping. Again He awoke them, readmonished them, and once more returned and prayed. Three times this occurred, until I was perfectly familiar with His appearance– face, form and movements. He was of noble stature and majestic mien– not at all the weak, effeminate being that some painters have portrayed; but the very God that He was and is, as meek and humble as a little child. “All at once the circumstances seemed to change, the scene remaining just the same. Instead of before, it was after the crucifixion, and the Savior, with the three Apostles, now stood together in a group at my left. They were about to depart and ascend into Heaven. I could endure it no longer. I ran from behind the tree, fell at His feet, clasped Him around the knees, and begged Him to take me with Him.

“I shall never forget the kind and gentle manner in which He stooped, raised me up, and embraced me. It was so vivid, so real. I felt the very warmth of His body, as He held me in His arms and said in the tenderest tones: “No, my son, these have finished their work; they can go with me; but you must stay and finish yours.” Still I clung to Him. Gazing up into His face– for He was taller than I– I besought Him fervently: “Well, promise me that I may come to you at the last.” Smiling sweetly, He said, “That will depend entirely upon yourself.” I awoke with a sob in my throat, and it was morning.  “…. I saw the moral clearly. I have never thought of being an Apostle, nor of holding any other office in the Church, and it did not occur to me then. Yet I knew that these sleeping Apostles meant me. I was asleep at my post — as any man is who, having been divinely appointed to do one thing, does another.

“But from that hour, all was changed. I never was the same man again. I continued to write, but not to the neglect of the Lord’s work. I held that first and foremost; all else was secondary.”(Orson F. Whitney, “Through Memories Halls”, 1930, p. 82 Quoted in Bryant Hinckley, The Faith of our Pioneer Fathers, 211-213).

No one could deny the spiritual and emotional power of this account. It changed Orson’s life and touches the reader’s emotions. Obviously, this vision fulfilled God’s purposes. And as Orson repeatedly emphasizes, this vision was as real to him as any other experience. But to those of us attuned to such things, the anachronisms are striking—Orson sees not the Gethsemane of Jesus’ time, but a garden like those with which he would be familiar. Instead of hearing Aramaic interpreted through the gift of tongues, Orson heard not only the exact King James rendering of Jesus’ prayer, but specifically the one he knew best—drawn from Matthew 26:39. This sublime experience drives home the point of this paper—God gave Orson exactly the vision that would maximize its spiritual affect; at the same time, the details reflect not historical reality, but the recipient’s expectations.

Let’s use this example and apply it to some more controversial LDS topics (The Book of Mormon, The Book of Abraham, the priesthood/temple ban of blacks, Masonic rituals/temple ceremonies, etc.). As we do this, I want the reader to understand and keep in mind that in regard to revelation there is always a human touch as well as God’s hand. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to look past the discrepancies and oftentimes blatant errors that we find in religion that result from human filters. Sometimes I get so caught up in the inaccuracies and inconsistencies that I could definitely miss the message that was intended. It can be really easy to discredit aspects of any religion based solely on blunders from the human touch. So how do we get past that? How do we see God’s messages for what they truly are through years and years and years of human filters?

In next week’s post we will be covering the “translation” and anachronisms of the Book of Mormon and how this relates to revelation and human touch.

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Born and raised in Northern California, Paul received his education at Ricks College and BYU with a BA in Spanish, minor in PE Coaching. Paul served his LDS mission during the years 94-96 in Rosario, Argentina. He now runs a skate shop in Provo, UT. He's married and has 4 boys. He is currently inbetween callings ;).

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22 Comments

  1. Leah Marie /

    I think this is a supremely important discussion, and I’m glad you brought priesthood blessings into it. I’ve had several friends leave the LDS church because a priesthood blessing did not, in some way or another, pan out for them–they did not receive what they felt they were promised. We have to be so careful about how we place our faith if we don’t want to loose it, and human fallacy trips a lot of people up.

    I’m looking forward, quite a bit, to the rest of this discussion.

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    • Leah Marie,

      I know Paul appreciates your comment. He and I have been talking about this post for about two to three months. It is something with which we both wrestle.

      It seems to me that those for whom “the human fingerprint” in revelation becomes a stumbling stone are those that take a very literal, very simplistic view of revelation; and I don’t think it is their fault. I would argue that the church institution almost encourages this view. It is akin to Evangelical Christians that take an inerrant view of the Bible and then find out it has errors. What do they do? They leave Christianity! What do Mormons do? They leave the faith.

      To approach revelation, as Paul is with these posts, is more complicated, but much more interesting too!

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      • Leah Marie /

        I think I would agree that the church institution (as distinguished from church doctrine, of course) encourages the simplistic view. I’ve always said that Mormon mythology is going to be the downfall of many Mormons, and what I’ve meant is exactly that.

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  2. Garrett /

    Paul, I appreciate the posting because this issue of knowing what is revelation, what isnt revelation, and human error has been on my mind a lot lately. I feel like I have a very hard time discerning between what is from God and what is from my own conscience. I believe it was marlin Jensen (might be wrong) at the latest general conference that stated that not everything the prophet says is revelation from God and that we have to be able to determine basically what is from God and what is the prophet’s opinion. I probably hashed the crap out of what he actually said, but that is what I got from it. The problem for me then lies in figuring out how to distinguish….and I don’t see that as an easy task. The feelings I get on a given subject may be completely different than the feelings you get. So when it comes to something like directing the church it seems like it would be nice if the leaders of the church stated when something was revelation and when something was opinion…I know that won’t ever happen but it would sure help.

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    • Garrett,

      Paul’s posts on revelation for me incapsulate what us three brothers were hoping to do with the blog. Ask questions that aren’t asked in church. Explore the questions and possible answers. And, ask more questions!

      When and LDS member runs into problems such as “the human fingerprint” found in divine revelation, they have three choices as I see it: 1)Be ostrich-like with their faith and bury their head in the sand as if there are no problems 2) Leave the church because there is too much humanity in the interpretation of the divine 3)Wrestle with it. Realize it is complicated. Be humble and be willing to give others not of our faith tradition the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their revelation(s).

      The last option can leave some with ambiguity. How comfortable is someone with ambiguity? Are you willing to wrestle with God as Jacob did for his blessing? These are questions that only the person themselves can answer.

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    • Garrett I love your comment. As far as personal revelation is concerned it is hard to decide who’s talking! I like the approach of Nephi when he was commanded to get the plates. It’s not recorded that they really asked for guidance, they just did it. First the drew straws (super inspiring right?), next one of the brothers just asked for the plates, next they decided to trade for the plates (great idea I thought!), then of course after that Nephi just goes again without a plan and we know how that story goes.

      In this example I see Nephi and his brothers using their God given brain to solve the task that the Lord gave them. For me personally this works.

      As far as what is being said by our leaders or what our leaders say in print is tough one to resolve. I think in some cases they do what Nephi and his brothers did when it comes to policy, they try to find something that will work and fine tune it as things are worked out.

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      • Jeff /

        I’ve been studying a similar idea on the human fingerprint from the humans who recorded experiences in our standard works especially the Old Testiment. I have always taken it for granted that God literally talked to the “ancients” giving them direct direction what to do and wondered why they seemed to be priviliaged with this sort of direct contact when the rest of us have to opperate on faith. Then I re-read Heb 11 and Paul starts with the definition of faith that we are all familiar with and then the rest of the chapter he brings up the very people I’m talking about and states that it was by faith that they had to live as well. So then it makes me wonder if there is human fingerprint on how the experience was recorded. Did God really tell Noah to build an Arch in a literal sense or did it come in a way that most of us are more familiar with through the spirit but leaving Noah to act more on faith that a literal conversation with God. Either way the message was from God but much more impressive for Abraham or Noah if they had to excercise a great amount of faith and overcome self doubt vs. obeying a direct command from God in his first person.

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  3. Cody Calderwood /

    Very well done Paul! I was discussing this human aspect within the doctrine recently with a fellow ward member. I was mentioning how I have seen some members of the church eventually come to the realization that the leaders of this church are human and invariably falter at times with what they perceive as revelation. This realization unfortunately rocks them to the core and they struggle mightily with their testimony. He said that what has kept him grounded in the LDS church is that he cannot deny that the spirit is in this gospel. He recounts how he has felt the spirit so strongly in so many aspects of this church, like reading the book of mormon, attending the temple, hearing the prophet speak, etc.
    He is so right, and I think that is key for all of us to remember as we wrestle with these topics. We need to remember the spirit that we have felt.

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    • Cody you raise a good point which could be another post in itself. Garrett alluded to this in his first comment on how to discern what are feelings are or if it’s just his thoughts speaking to him. How do we trust our feelings or discern them is a tough one to answer. But I do remember wanting to get up and clap and shout amen after hearing uchtdorf’s talk during Sunday conference. This process is difficult because it is unique to each and every person. What works for you as an answer might not work for your wife or me and what works for me might not work for you.

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  4. Garrett /

    Michael and Paul, Thanks for your responses. I do find it encouraging that the process isnt as simple as many of us would think it to be. Some questions do arise though even as I ponder your responses. To what degree does the Lord let “the human fingerprint” influence revelation when it comes to governing the church body as a whole? When looking at our individual lives it seems as though there would be more room for that individual touch on revelation. However, when looking at guiding an entire nation of people, a body of saints, it seems like we would want less human fingerprint coming down from the prophet and leaders of the church…and allow for the message to reach the saints unadulterated and allow for them to each saint to receive their own impression from the Lord on it. Then, however, comes the problem of once again…when each member prays about it how much is their own conscience and how much is from the Lord. Sorry if it seems like I’m repeating the same information…its hard for me to put down in writing my exact feelings because it doesnt ever seem to come out right.
    Paul, I appreciate as well your example with Nephi and his brothers. For me that example fits very well with how personal revelation oftentimes is. I guess from the standpoint of looking at the leaders of the church, if revelation in guiding the church is the same, it seems like the Lord would be leaving the direction of the church too much in the hands of imperfect people who, even though they have good intentions, may get it wrong and interpret things too much based on personal bias or opinion. Maybe that is his goal, maybe not.

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    • It’s a fine line indeed. Nephi was allowed to fail before he was finally led by the spirit. For me it’s a constant back and forth as I analyze carefully what has been said and what is being said today. For me it’s not easy at all, but once I come to terms with something I know that principle back and forth and understand it a lot better.

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  5. John P. /

    Talking with Paul more about this post over the phone, he offered this great insight (maybe it will be in part 2) [and this is my paraphrase of what he said]:

    The Catholics teach that the Pope is infallible, but few Catholics believe it. The Mormons teach the Prophet is fallible, but few Mormons believe it.

    As always, a well thought out post drawing on great sources, from BY to the Simpsons.

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  6. Chareine Barker /

    Thanks for your post, guys. As I read, I was reminded that we also learn line upon line–here a little bit and there a little bit. Sometimes when I don’t understand/accept something that is said it is because I haven’t considered and accepted a more foundational doctrine.

    As I read, I am also reminded that Heavenly Father knows where each of us are personally and He accepts us where we are at and gives us what we are willing to accept.

    To use the analogy of the Narnian Chronicles “The Final Battle” can we ever do anything good in the name of something evil? The Book of Mormon teaches us that if our thoughts and actions are bringing us closer to Christ, then we are in a safe place.

    Yes, our leaders a mortal, fallible men. Knowing that, it is a great exercise for us to be able to accept their teachings and to realize that they have a greater responsibility than I do and that they will have the opportunity to account for that responsibility. Therefore I have the responsibility to leave it in God’s hands and allow these men the benefit of the doubt. And no, I’m not talking about blind faith. Obviously, you don’t follow someone to “Jonestown” and commit mass suicide in the name of religion. We are taught to question the teachings/authority of those placed over us but once we have received that assurance, we are also responsible to follow them. Think about how Adam recognized and accepted the messengers that were sent to him after he left the Garden of Eden.

    And I love Garrett’s comment—the process isn’t as easy or simple as some of us think. Joseph Smith taught that our faith works by our words. And so often those words are so weak and so negative. Joseph also taught that faith requires mental effort. So many times we think we just need to ask and it will come. We forget the “wrestle” that Jacob had with God and Enos also. We forget that Moses fell on his face after seeing the Lord because he didn’t have any strength left. And of course–there is the quip by Joseph Smith that Sydney Rigdon wasn’t as used to receiving visions as Joseph was when they received the 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants.

    Thanks again!

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  7. Garrett /

    I have been thinking a lot on this topic lately. There are many things that our prophets and apostles have said over the course of our church history that have been taught as doctrine, and then over time are either removed from the church doctrine or they are deemed to just be opinions. We are told to pray and ask God to bless us with a knowledge that the “doctrine” being taught is in fact doctrine. Many people over the course of our church history have knelt down and prayed to God about specific doctrinal issues and have felt the spirit confirm to them that whatever they were praying about is true and correct doctrine. So if I pray about a doctrine and receive a confirmation that it is true only to find out later on that it isn’t truly gospel doctrine, did I really feel the holy ghost testify to me that it was true or did my conscience convince me that it was a good thing? It seems weird to me, as I think about it, that the holy ghost would confirm to me the truthfulness of a doctrine that isn’t really doctrine. So therein lies my problem in that I question when it is that I am truly feeling the holy ghost and when I am simply convincing myself that something is true and correct. I hope all of that came out ok….my wife and I discussed it earlier and it came out so much more clear when we were talking

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    • Garrett –
      Great question and I think I know what you are talking about. How do you trust if what you felt was the spirit or was it you or something else. There is a really good podcast that goes over this, you can check it out here: http://mormonmatters.org/2012/03/07/77-78-recognizing-the-spirit/ Let me know what you think of it. I’m going to re listen to it tomorrow so we can discuss if you would like.

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    • Garett,

      First of all, forgive my spelling. This dang computer at the hospital doesn’t have spell check.

      You bring up an important point about epistemology (how we learn what is true). Within Mormonism, spiritual confirmation is so stressed to the point where intellect is deomonized.

      The difficulty lies in exactly what you pointed out – doctrine that is no longer doctrine. I am going to complicate things even more. I would argue that past doctrines that are abrogated to the realm of “folk-lore” or “just opinion” or just aren’t dealt with (thus falling into George Orwell’s ‘memory hole’) have become such only when the doctrines have become embarrasing to the current church. I have in mind specifically the temple and priesthood ban on those of African descent and polygamy (the church is duplicites on whether or not polygamy is doctrial or not). Will the same happen with homosexuals, women and the priesthood too? I don’t know.

      Lately I have re-examined my Mormon epistemology. I was re-listening to a 5 hour podcast interview with Richard Bushman again; I think I emailed the link to you last year when you were YM’s President. When speaking of the church, Dr Bushman would use the word “good” where most church-attending Mormons would use the word “I know” or “true.” This has greatlty influenced my view of LDS truth and doctrine. This how I view things now:

      I first ask myself, does this uphold “the good”, “does it hurt people?” If it does not uphold “the good” or if it does hurt people, I reject it. I don’t even bother asking God to confirm it. I use my own intellect. I am thinking specifcally of the following quote from Elder Russell M. Nelson from last April General Conference:

      “Yet some people erroneously think that these marvelous physical attributes happened by chance or resulted from a big bang somewhere. Ask yourself, “Could an explosion in a printing shop produce a dictionary?” The likelihood is most remote. But if so, it could never heal its own torn pages or reproduce its own newer editions!”

      I believe the Big Bang happened. I think Elder Russell M. Nelson does not understand the philosophical implcations of his statement. When looking at those cosmologist that do try to the negate the Big Bang, they do so because they understand the philosophical implications of the Big Bang point to a creator. Modern Christian Philosophers understand this too and use it as an argument for the existence of God called the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I am going to do a post on this argument in about two months.

      The other reason Elder Nelson’s statement bothered me was because it downplayed the intellect and because the congregation laughed afterward. For a long time some Mormon’s have been arguing that Mormonism is an intellectually engaging world view and that it is not anti-science; then Elder Nelson’s statement. Something died inside of me that day.

      Here are some quotes from scholars that have helped me with my struggle. They are future quotes that will be published in our “Quote of the Month section that sits to the right of the blog:

      “If our popular [Mormon] culture demonizes the intellect, that’s not what Joseph [Smith] taught. Joseph taught that we are intellects fully as much as we are spirits. Or sometimes he seemed to talk that our essence is spirit-intellects. That’s what we ontologically are. And to bifurcate those, to sunder the mind and the spirit is to be apostate from major thrusts of Joseph’s theology” (Phillip Barlow; Mormon Matters podcast; episode 73; 1:15)

      Questions are good. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, but absolute, antiseptic certainty is the opposite of faith.” (Phillip Barlow, proffesor and holder of the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, Mormon Matters podcast; episode 73, “And the survey says)

      “For me, faith is what an earlier Paul said it is. “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) It transcends empirical knowledge, and because what humanity learns by reason and experience is both finite and fallible, it may even contradict such “knowledge.” Where a faith proposition and a knowledge proposition seem contradictory, I feel no compulsion to choose between them unless it becomes necessary to act upon one or the other. Many issues that strain relations between some good Latter-day Saints who are present tonight and some good Latte-day Saints who are not here do not require resolution. For pragmatic and docrinal reasons, I believe in suspending Judgment in such cases. (Richard D. Poll was a professor emeritus of history at BYU. This paper was originally presented at the 1993 Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City on 13 August.. He died 27 April 1994; https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/096-35-38.pdf )

      “In my experience, neither critics, nor apologist for the church do much to convince me whether or not to believe. Debates, analysis, and scientific evidence may alternately undermine or support by beliefs. But belief itself is a choice I wrestle with God for, somewhere in a dark swampland, my inner landscape; where not only God’s credibility, by my own are at stake. (Wendy Ulrich, Ph.D. in psychology and education from University of Michigan and an M.B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a practicing psychologist for over twenty years, and is a former president of the Association of Mormon counselors and Psychotherapists; Best of FAIR podcast episode 10 “Believest thou…?”)

      “It’s no great accomplishment to hear a voice in your head. The accomplishment is to make sure that it is telling you the truth.” (Mormon Matters podcast, 77; Recognizing “The Spirit” – Part 1)

      “So, that means for me is, if there are all sorts of stupid stuff, superstition, prejudice, blacks and the priesthood, racism, that somehow got formulated into interpretations of our scripture and then passed on by tradition, that can be understood sympathetically, but rejected vigorously on the one hand. And on the other hand if some people were ahead of us prophetically in shedding racism then that is fabulous, I will learn from them and embrace that. That is not a threat to my Mormon faith; that is a part of my Mormon faith.” (Phillip Barlow, proffers and holder of the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, Mormon Matters podcast; episode 73, “And the survey Says…!” 1:10)

      Garrett, for me Mormonism is a struggle, but there is so much good there. I wrestle with my faith and with God. I feel that I relate somewhat to Jacob:

      24 ¶And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. 25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. 26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. 28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. 29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. 31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. 32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank. (Genesis 32:24-32)

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      • Garrett since I began asking questions like that, I have really dug into conference talks and weighed more carefully what they say… but mostly try to get the kids as many snacks as possible.

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    • Garett,

      First of all, forgive my spelling. This dang computer at the hospital doesn’t have spell check.

      You bring up an important point about epistemology (how we learn what is true). Within Mormonism, spiritual confirmation is so stressed to the point where intellect is deomonized.

      The difficulty lies in exactly what you pointed out – doctrine that is no longer doctrine. I am going to complicate things even more. I would argue that past doctrines that are abrogated to the realm of “folk-lore” or “just opinion” or just aren’t dealt with (thus falling into George Orwell’s ‘memory hole’) have become such only when the doctrines have become embarrasing to the current church. I have in mind specifically the temple and priesthood ban on those of African descent and polygamy (the church is duplicites on whether or not polygamy is doctrial or not). Will the same happen with homosexuals, women and the priesthood too? I don’t know.

      Lately I have re-examined my Mormon epistemology. I was re-listening to a 5 hour podcast interview with Richard Bushman again; I think I emailed the link to you last year when you were YM’s President. When speaking of the church, Dr Bushman would use the word “good” where most church-attending Mormons would use the word “I know” or “true.” This has greatlty influenced my view of LDS truth and doctrine. This how I view things now:

      I first ask myself, does this uphold “the good”, “does it hurt people?” If it does not uphold “the good” or if it does hurt people, I reject it. I don’t even bother asking God to confirm it. I use my own intellect. I am thinking specifcally of the following quote from Elder Russell M. Nelson from last April General Conference:

      “Yet some people erroneously think that these marvelous physical attributes happened by chance or resulted from a big bang somewhere. Ask yourself, “Could an explosion in a printing shop produce a dictionary?” The likelihood is most remote. But if so, it could never heal its own torn pages or reproduce its own newer editions!”

      I believe the Big Bang happened. I think Elder Russell M. Nelson does not understand the philosophical implcations of his statement. When looking at those cosmologist that do try to the negate the Big Bang, they do so because they understand the philosophical implications of the Big Bang point to a creator. Modern Christian Philosophers understand this too and use it as an argument for the existence of God called the Kalam Cosmological Argument. I am going to do a post on this argument in about two months.

      The other reason Elder Nelson’s statement bothered me was because it downplayed the intellect and because the congregation laughed afterward. For a long time some Mormon’s have been arguing that Mormonism is an intellectually engaging world view and that it is not anti-science; then Elder Nelson’s statement. Something died inside of me that day.

      Here are some quotes from scholars that have helped me with my struggle. They are future quotes that will be published in our “Quote of the Month section that sits to the right of the blog:

      “If our popular [Mormon] culture demonizes the intellect, that’s not what Joseph [Smith] taught. Joseph taught that we are intellects fully as much as we are spirits. Or sometimes he seemed to talk that our essence is spirit-intellects. That’s what we ontologically are. And to bifurcate those, to sunder the mind and the spirit is to be apostate from major thrusts of Joseph’s theology” (Phillip Barlow; Mormon Matters podcast; episode 73; 1:15)

      Questions are good. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, but absolute, antiseptic certainty is the opposite of faith.” (Phillip Barlow, proffesor and holder of the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, Mormon Matters podcast; episode 73, “And the survey says)

      “For me, faith is what an earlier Paul said it is. “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) It transcends empirical knowledge, and because what humanity learns by reason and experience is both finite and fallible, it may even contradict such “knowledge.” Where a faith proposition and a knowledge proposition seem contradictory, I feel no compulsion to choose between them unless it becomes necessary to act upon one or the other. Many issues that strain relations between some good Latter-day Saints who are present tonight and some good Latte-day Saints who are not here do not require resolution. For pragmatic and docrinal reasons, I believe in suspending Judgment in such cases. (Richard D. Poll was a professor emeritus of history at BYU. This paper was originally presented at the 1993 Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City on 13 August.. He died 27 April 1994; https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/096-35-38.pdf )

      “In my experience, neither critics, nor apologist for the church do much to convince me whether or not to believe. Debates, analysis, and scientific evidence may alternately undermine or support by beliefs. But belief itself is a choice I wrestle with God for, somewhere in a dark swampland, my inner landscape; where not only God’s credibility, by my own are at stake. (Wendy Ulrich, Ph.D. in psychology and education from University of Michigan and an M.B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a practicing psychologist for over twenty years, and is a former president of the Association of Mormon counselors and Psychotherapists; Best of FAIR podcast episode 10 “Believest thou…?”)

      “It’s no great accomplishment to hear a voice in your head. The accomplishment is to make sure that it is telling you the truth.” (Mormon Matters podcast, 77; Recognizing “The Spirit” – Part 1)

      “So, that means for me is, if there are all sorts of stupid stuff, superstition, prejudice, blacks and the priesthood, racism, that somehow got formulated into interpretations of our scripture and then passed on by tradition, that can be understood sympathetically, but rejected vigorously on the one hand. And on the other hand if some people were ahead of us prophetically in shedding racism then that is fabulous, I will learn from them and embrace that. That is not a threat to my Mormon faith; that is a part of my Mormon faith.” (Phillip Barlow, proffers and holder of the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, Mormon Matters podcast; episode 73, “And the survey Says…!” 1:10)

      Garrett, for me Mormonism is a struggle, but there is so much good there. I wrestle with my faith and with God. I feel that I relate somewhat to Jacob:

      24 ¶And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. 25 And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. 26 And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. 28 And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. 29 And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. 31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. 32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank. (Genesis 32:24-32)

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  8. Garrett /

    Thank you both for your responses. I am going to go back and listen to some of those podcasts. I have never been huge on podcasts but what i’m realizing is that there is a lot of good information that can assist me in my pursuit of knowledge and information. I oftentimes struggle with my faith and find myself in a place where I find that I am questioning much of what I was raised to believe. Your blog has been very helpful to me. Thanks for letting me throw questions at you.

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