Friday, May 18, 2007

My Spiritual Witness of Humanism

Last night I was having an extended philosophical conversation with my wife and some good friends. They, like us, are "so-called intellectuals," although they're not Mormon. (Does that make them "real intellectuals?") Whenever we get together it immediately turns into a deep dive on politics, religion, current events, etc. This time was no exception.

We were discussing Fowler's Stages of Faith, which they are going to read on our recommendation (do I mention this book too much?), and I was trying to explain the idea around shared centers of value and power. I explained (hope I didn't mutilate the message too much) that a driving force behind our quest for purpose is the desire for validation of worth in the face of death. That it is the inevitability, incomprehensibility, and finality of our impending end that is in a constant battle with our desire to have intrinsic worth. Nobody wants to think of himself as a random lump of biomass, here one year and gone the next. (Not that we're not random biomasses, just that we don't like using that as our primary construct for existence.)

While I was explaining this--the idea that "fear of death" drives the quest for meaning, I was almost moved to tears by the Spirit. So, I guess that was True. Since it was in the context of religion as a human construct, it doesn't really jive with the other stuff I thought the Spirit told me was True, but I experienced what I experienced.

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22 Comments:

Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

You are lucky to have people in real life to discuss topics like this with. I have blogs. :)

May 18, 2007 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

I was almost moved to tears by the Spirit. So, I guess that was True. Since it was in the context of religion as a human construct, it doesn't really jive with the other stuff I thought the Spirit told me was True, but I experienced what I experienced.

I am not sure here if you are being sarcastic or serious. Please clarify.

May 20, 2007 at 12:49 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I really want to share this story with you three on this blog. Take it for what you will.

Today in Sacrament Meeting, one of the speakers told a story of taking his son on a hike in the mountains. Along the trail, they stopped to rest for a spell beside a beautiful, cool stream. The son, who had just turned eight, told his father he was thirsty. When saw his father reach for the canteen, he said, “But Dad, the stream is right here. Why can’t drink from it?”

The father took this teaching opportunity to explain something to his son. He said, “Son, that water is beautiful, and to is it looks clear and cool. But we do not know the source of it, so we should be save and drink from our canteen.”

The father and son drank from the canteen and pressed on. A short way up the trail around a bend, they came upon a herd of cattle wading in the stream. Some of the cattle were even relieving themselves in the water. Immediately the son saw the significance of what his father had told him about the water.

This story, though, made me think a little deeper. Today we live in a world fraught with information, much of published with enticing headlines over beautiful pictures on glossy paper. We are drawn to the material much like the son to the river. But as we stand by the river of deception, we have a canteen of living water – the scriptures. We know the source of the scriptures. We know they come from a loving Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ, who shared with us that we might have living water, and that we might be saved – in this case saved from partaking of the awful materials we find so available in the information age.

May 20, 2007 at 3:05 PM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

Robert:

That's a great analogy! If I may expound on it.

If the father and son were to continue hiking upstream they would eventually be led to the pure source of the stream. Once at the source they would better be able to determine if the water was good to drink or not.

So many people go everywhere but the source when they have questions about the Church rather than ask an active member. Where better to get the truth, downstream after the stream has forked away into varous other streams, passing through who knows what before you drink? Or at the source?

Also I think for some people the water in the stream just looks too similar to the water in the canteen so they settle for the stream water, which can infect them eventually making them sick. And instead of hiking further up stream towards the source, they are more curious about what else is out there so they hike downstream where it divurges into wandering paths to explore. Eventually they are lost from the source, they just don't know it because they continue to drink from the polluted water.

Great hijacking of the thread by the way. =)

May 20, 2007 at 3:48 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

He brought up feeling the Spirit, and the Spirit was so strong today in Sacrament meeting, I had trouble standing to close the program. I am not a person who gets nervous, wobbly knees. I was just overcome with the feeling of it. The story I shared really set the tone for that meeting. I mostly wanted to share it because it was such an interesting metaphor to me. I really didn't think about it being a thread jack. If uj wants me to remove it, I will.

May 20, 2007 at 7:29 PM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

Robert:

I'm just kidding. I'm sure he doesn't mind you sharing. He will probably find a way to point out some kind of flaw with the metaphor, but I don't think he will care that we've temporarily hijacked his thread as our own spiritual chat room. = )

May 20, 2007 at 8:00 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

"So many people go everywhere but the source when they have questions about the Church rather than ask an active member. Where better to get the truth, downstream after the stream has forked away into varous other streams, passing through who knows what before you drink? Or at the source?"

Unfortunately for me, it seems that the "source" (meaning the church), has throughout its short history added flavor enhancers to the water whenever it tasted bad, rather than just telling the membership what happened and why that bad taste was there at all to begin with.

It seems like they are so afraid of the members tasting something not perfect that they'd rather change the ingredients than explain why the taste is like it is.

May 20, 2007 at 11:31 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Too many of the members don't know everything that happens or happened at the source or the actual history of the church and its founders, because all they ever learned sitting in lessons and class was the doctored up version of the history. That makes it difficult for them to be the "True" source to ask about questionable things.

May 20, 2007 at 11:33 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

SML,

The "source" of the scriptures is not the church. At the very least, it is not in the metaphor I was using. The source of all gospel is Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. I say "is" because they have one joint message, but to attribute any particular item to one of them is generally to attribute it to all three. Jesus is the source of things he personally said, Heavenly Father is the source of things he said to Jesus and on some occasions said to others, and the Spirit inspired several parts of scripture. That was the point of my comparison, that the source of the scriptures is pure.

May 21, 2007 at 5:15 AM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

SS: I'm being serious about the experience. I don't believe the Spirit is external to me, but I use terminology consistent with the experience.

Robert, that is a nice analogy. Obviously I would include the scriptures as yet another source of glitzy information. (Not that the scriptures themselves are all that glitzy, but churches build a glamorous story that is built around them.) Almost half of the Mormon canon was written by one man (maybe--there are coauthership theories for the BoM), and he was quite the charmer by all accounts. Add that to the fact that the Mormon scriptures are more narratives than policy manuals, and people can create whatever morals they want and attribute them to th scriptures (e.g. homophobia, capital punishment, war)

So, with all of this information flowing around, what can you rely on? The only transcendent mechanism we know--reason. People use God to get to anything they want and will provide "scriptures" as necessary. Hindus have them; Mormons have them; Muslims have them. But if people agree on the validity of inputs, reason can assure they find a consistent answer.

May 21, 2007 at 5:45 AM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Robert ~

I was responding to Shadow Spawn's comment: "So many people go everywhere but the source when they have questions about the Church rather than ask an active member."

It seems he thinks the source is the members.

May 21, 2007 at 7:44 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

SML,

I was just clarifying my point. The source of gospel has always been the Godhead.

And SS, I am not saying this next statement in any way to offend, but to clarify: sometimes members can be a dangerous source of information. There's a reason the saying goes "The church is perfect, but the members of the church are not."

Uj,

I agree that reason is important, and I believe that God is the source of our ability to reason. But reason for one man might be entirely different than reason for another, much like our discussion on beliefs in what God says being molded to personal desires. Gospel is not so maleable, despite what some may say. In the words of a good friend of mine, "It is what it is."

May 21, 2007 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

And SS, I am not saying this next statement in any way to offend, but to clarify: sometimes members can be a dangerous source of information. There's a reason the saying goes "The church is perfect, but the members of the church are not."

You are right. I really should't be comparing members of the Church to the source of pure truth. That really isn't what I meant by that. For example.

Just the other day a co-worker confronted me about the Church with a bunch of information he'd gotten from watching "The God Makers" I asked him if he'd ever read the BoM, he replied he hadn't. I happen to keep a paperback copy of it at work. I immediately produced it and extended it to him, letting him know it was his if he wanted to read it? Not to my surprise he refused it.

I asked if he'd ever had the missionaries over to hear about the Church. The answer was no. I invited him to listen to the missionaries and of course he declined the invitation. Would he like to attend a Church meeting with me to see what it's all about? Nope. Had he been to the Church website? Nope. How about the Temple Visitor's Center? Nah. I offered to share with him a brief history of the Church and its basic doctrines to the best of my knowledge. "Maybe some day", was his answer.

So, I guess the point I was trying to make in my addition to the metaphor is that some people, (alot) are more interested in hearing about the Church from any source other than from the source itself. They would rather hear sensationalist claims, and sordid rumors because it's more interesting, and I think most of those people aren't really seeking the truth, they already have an axe to grind and are seeking for ammunition.

Anyway, I didn't mean to imply that "active members" are the only pure source of truth regarding the Church. I just find it frustrating how many people will seek out one side of the story, (usually from people who are spiteful and have an axe to grind) but don't even go to the other side of the aisle so they can at least have a balaced view of what they are hearing.

UJ:

I'm being serious about the experience. I don't believe the Spirit is external to me, but I use terminology consistent with the experience

I don't understand what you mean by the Spirit not being external to you. I gather from reading your other writings that you don't belive in "The Holy Ghost" in the literal sense as being an individual of the Godhead. And I thought I read that you believed that the feelings that most of us associate with feeling the Spirit are just psychological and physiological responses to external stimuli based on past experience and cultural surroundings. So, I have been under the belief that you don't believe in "The Spirit" testifying of truth to the soul. So, your experience confuses me.

May 21, 2007 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

SS ~

You say many people do this when you have one example of one guy at work. Do you have any other examples? Does this happen to you often where people confront you with only one side of the issue and refuse to hear the other side?

Why does it bother you to have Uj or me or others feeling differently from you about things you believe to be true? Is that threatening to you in some way?

Imagine if a co-worker tried to whip out their religious book from their desk and asked you to read it. Your response would likely be the exact same as his was to you. There's no way you'd be open and willing to read up and learn his religion inside and out, especially if you had heard or read things about his religion that were strange, funky, or evil in any way, right? I would have reacted the same way if someone had presented me with any literature of any sort while I was still a member, because I KNEW I already had the full truth. Yet you expect your coworker to behave differently than that.

May 21, 2007 at 4:29 PM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

You say many people do this when you have one example of one guy at work. Do you have any other examples? Does this happen to you often where people confront you with only one side of the issue and refuse to hear the other side?

This was something that I encountered numerous times on my mission. I bet even UJ can testify to the fact that there are a lot of people out there that hear this or that about the Church and believe the first things they hear, and don't bother to ask for the other side. Tell me would you trust information about a church if the information came from someone who was obviously bitter and had an axe to grind?

Why does it bother you to have Uj or me or others feeling differently from you about things you believe to be true? Is that threatening to you in some way?

uhhh no. I'm not bothered or threatened by other beliefs, but I don't mind standing up for my beliefs when they are being critisized, and trying to shed a different light on the topic of discussion, albeit I admit I have been rather passionate here lately, for which I have apologized already to UJ for. I imagine you're used to LDS people talking to you in or more loving or toned down manner trying not to offend, ...like Robert, bless his heart. I know I have made little digs here and there, but I'm trying to get you to think about things differently.

Imagine if a co-worker tried to whip out their religious book from their desk and asked you to read it. Your response would likely be the exact same as his was to you.

Actually I discuss religion with people all the time. I've read from the Koran, I've read Watchtower pamphlets, etc. I normally don't push my religion onto people, but this guy was being confrontational and offensive. I don't mind discussing things, even arguing a bit is ok, but in this case I felt my approach diffused the situation, but also proved a point to him. My final comment was why don't you try reading some of the stuff you and your movie are sooooo against before you buy everything the movie tells you hook line and sinker.

May 21, 2007 at 4:55 PM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...

My, but this thread has wandered about. SS, that's an interesting experience. I suspect your coworker had heard weird things before he even saw Decker's movie. The movie, with its emotional manipulation, sealed his testimony of the untruthfulness of Mormonism. Evidence to the contrary was best avoided. I'm sure you can see parallels from the believing side as well--this is a pretty universal human weakness. Anyway, it's good that you've read a Watchtower before, but would you invite JW's into your house to teach you about it? Have you read Dianetics and visited a Scientology church, or do you trust the secular sources in their criticism of it? I personally find the prospect of either to be disquieting (and I have read Dianetics and attended a Kingdom Hall.)

Honestly, I'm surprised he didn't take the BoM, since that's harmless enough. Not inviting over the missionaries or attending a meeting is perfectly understandable. And don't forget, if someone has an "axe to grind," they have as legitimate an experience with the church as a believing member! An investigator (which this guy didn't seem to be) would be acting rationally to talk to former members and ask why they left.

Not visiting LDS.org makes sense if he's spent 30 minutes online, since it becomes clear that universally accepted facts (such as JS's polygamy) are studiously avoided on the Correlation Committee's website. It's their website; they can do what they want with it, but if it doesn't provide a certain degree of candor, don't expect people to respect it as a valid source of information. Would you watch commercials to learn about the reliability of an automobile brand, or look at JD Powers reports? The church makes no bones about its intention to convert the world, so obviously an outsider would look askance on information from the church itself.

May 21, 2007 at 6:13 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

SS,

My branch president said he got rather used to the Godmakers questions on his mission because he served in LA. He explained it most recently to his non-member mother-in-law by pointing out how many things he had to lie about in order to gain entry into the temple and then be able to spread more lies about it. I generally just point out what my wife does, that the stars of the movie converted after making it because they couldn't believe the church would be so evil and looked into it themselves.

To SML and SS,

I have had plenty of people who want to ask me questions about the church in the way his coworker did since I joined. Some of my own family have asked me questions, and when I said "I will look into it and get back to you." they took that as me being brainwashed. Then when I did come back with the answer to what they asked, they said, "Whatever, I don't want to hear that." Gee, why did you ask, then? I find it a very common situation from some evangelical Christians to pose questions they primarily use to set up their next attack. One of my classmates in high school used to attack my "unbelief" as a Methodist in high school, and now that I am a Mormon he is even more set on the idea of needing to "save" me. He spent several hours on multiple occasions attacking me - and yes, I mean he literally attacked in the sense of calling me all sorts of names. I finally said to him, "Scott, if you want to discuss religion in a respectful way, then I am willing to continue. If everything I say is automatically ignored or discounted and everything you say is automatically right, then there really isn't a lot of point in continuing." He never really talked to me much after I said that.

And since joining the church, I have read plenty of materials from other churches. My Dad showed me a book on Methodist beliefs and I read some of it. I did point out the irony that the first paragraph in chapter one explained a belief he does not accept himself. His simple response was, "So they got that one wrong." Generally, I find people lead off with either their best points or the most important points to further discussion. If the first paragraph of chapter one is wrong, well... anyway, I didn't bring it up. When I pointed that out to Dad, his response (as almost always) when I responded I did was, "I wish you would quit bringing this stuff up." I get that a lot from people who ask me about the church. They ask a question, and when I answer openly and honestly, they say "I wish you would quit bringing this up." I do not automatically ignore things from non-members. I generally look at it if I find the request at all well meaning (No, I don't spend hours reading books like How to Witness to Your Mormon Friend). I realize you did not direct the comment to me, so I am only responding to say that I have experiences consistent with what he described. I doubt I'm the only one. When I was a non-member, I refused to read the Book of Mormon or have the missionaries give me the discussions until I already was fairly certain the church is true. I had very different reasons for not being willing to read them. I was more like my father: I saw no point in reading something that did not matter to what I believed. Once I could see it did matter to me, I read it, and I immediately saw it as gospel.

Anyway, long enough response. I've enjoyed all the responses stemming from the analogy post. Thanks for leaving it up, uj.

May 21, 2007 at 8:28 PM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

Actually I can say that the JWs have been in my home twice. And believe it or not they left both times without either party condeming the other to Hell. = ) I've never met a scientologist, and don't know much about it.

I understand my co-worker turning down invitations to hear missionaries, go to church, the visitors center, etc. I was just trying to illustrate a point to him. My first week on the new job with him, he came right out and said, "you aren't a mormon are you?"

I said, "yes I am. Is that a problem with you?"

"No, as long as you don't try talking about it to me."

"Well, who brought up the topic of religion today?"

This was just my way of dealing with this particular guy.

I understand wanting to go to other sources other than the church itself for information. But, I think as you alluded to, if people hear something tainted or sordid they are going to tend to believe it, despite the truth. They choose to believe what they want to believe.

On the other hand if you were thinking of buying a Chevy would you go to the Ford dealership to ask about the Chevy? What kind of information do you think you'll get? Same thing on the fllip side. You wouldn't just go to the Chevy dealership and trust everything they say either. You can't really trust either of them cause they're both trying to sell you something. They are both biased.

So you are left with having to personally test drive the Chevy and take into account what both guys told you, check what they said against what you experience yourself with the test drive, and make up your own mind about it.

Well, this co-worker had been to Ford only, and I was merely offering him the opportunity to test drive the Chevy. If he was sincere and truly wondering about it, then he probably would have taken me up on one of my offers. But I think he was just being contentious.

Why should the Church website delve into polygamy, a practice that has been banned by the Church for decades? The Church as far as I know doesn't go to great pains to hide polygamy. They don't deny it or anything. Anyone that is curious can pick up a volume of Church History and read about it if they want to know more.

That would be like going to the Catholic Church website and having them advertise the sale of indulgences, or the Spanish Inquistion. Something from their past that they can't deny, but have cleary put behind them and have moved on.

May 21, 2007 at 8:38 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

Robert ~

I saw no point in reading something that did not matter to what I believed. Once I could see it did matter to me, I read it, and I immediately saw it as gospel.

This comment reminds me of Uj's post before this one...that people tend to believe what they want to believe, and they think that God supports their beliefs. You saw it as gospel AFTER you already believed it must be true.

Which is just fine, just interesting to note.

May 22, 2007 at 8:56 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

SML,

I did not wait to read it until I already believed it was true. I waited to read it until I could see any reason to. I had not, at the time, accepted the church or the Book of Mormon as true, but I did see the need to read it fot myself and decide if it was a lie or if it did contain the pure and precious truth my friend described. I did not accept the church immediately even after seeing the Book ofMormon as scripture. I was cery stubborn, you might say. I did accept it a month later after a lot more prayer and Bible study.

May 23, 2007 at 4:39 AM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

That's cool, Robert. I'm glad you found what you sought.

May 23, 2007 at 8:43 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Believe me, so am I.

May 23, 2007 at 12:16 PM  

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