Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My Great Shame

I will now openly admit the sin that led me away from orthodox belief in the church: thinking.

Okay, that's a little antagonistic--let me put it another way: intellectualism. But what is intellectualism? And why is it so frightening to so many people?

As long as I can remember, I've considered myself an intellectual. Why? Because I have always enjoyed thinking about things, connecting disparate ideas, and evaluating existing "knowledge" with a critical eye. Study, reflection, and speculation--these are the words in my dictionary's definition of "intellectual," and I think they sum it up quite nicely.

Study, reflection, and speculation. What exactly is wrong with those? The problem is that they are not outcome focused. Instead, they are focused on the process. An intellectual (when engaging in intellectual pursuits--after all, intellectuals believe and act frequently without complete analysis), absorbs as much information as possible, then tries to weave it all into a coherent myth (anthropologically speaking). When new, conflicting information appears, it must be incorporated as non-judgementally as possible, even if that means the old myth was wrong. Learning is its own reward--one never asks, "Why should I bother to think about this?"

Anti-intellectualism, often inappropriately described as faith (for everyone has faith), is focused on the result. Someone posits a myth, and it is everyone's job to accept it. Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus, as two embodied beings--accept it. The Old Testament is full of literal stories about language confusion, global floods, and divinely sanctioned genocides--accept it. You can accept this by what you feel--accept it. Inputs that do not align with these myths are not allowed to reshape it; they are only to be rejected as lies, half-truths, or misunderstandings. Joseph usually didn't tell the story that way? Other accounts are incomplete. God seems to be acting immorally? Who are you to judge God? Others describe the same feelings when testifying of diametrically opposed beliefs? They must not really be feeling what you feel. To focus on the intellectual process instead of the proscribed outcome is to cast doubt on the myth, and to the non-intellectual this is highly offensive, morally dubious, or just plain dumb.

Of course, many religious leaders want it both ways--study, reflect, speculate, etc., just make sure you get the right answer! And if that's too much work, guess what? The right answer is still the same! Isn't that convenient?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Opening a Little Wider

Last weekend my entire family went to a wedding out West. We stayed with some relatives who are extremely intellectual, and a generation ahead of us. It was great fun for someone like me--every night (and during the days if we were together) we discussed the church, politics, or general philosophy. We got into an extended debate of theodicy, which one of them was struggling with. I freely defended my own ideas, although not by explicitly saying, "God doesn't exist." I merely pointed out that if God does exist, God doesn't go meddling in people's affairs--otherwise God is clearly capricious and possibly sadistic. (Check out God's "rejoicing in suffering" in Deut. 28!) It was great fun and left me mentally exhausted.

Unfortunately, they are perceptive people, so they could tell my positions on fundamental doctrines are, shall we say, unorthodox. They immediately had a phone call into my parents, who confirmed the same. So, now I've become an object of pity in two more people's eyes. Future conversations will almost certainly be more polemic, as they strive to "defend the Church" or "save me from myself." I sure hope not, but that's the way it's gone with others--they used to talk freely about their gripes about Church, but now it's all "true and living" all the time. It's an unfortunate wall they choose (subconciously, I'm sure) to erect.

It's made me think about how some believers regularly accuse me of thinking I am smarter than they are. I try to point out that I can (as can they) disagree with someone whom I consider a peer or even a superior intellect. Factual disputes are not contests of intellect in my mind. I discovered what I did because of a fair amount of lucky timing--meeting the right people at the right times, or reading the right articles at the right times. On the other hand, as I usually do not point out it response, they now consider themselves morally superior to me. Even if I do "good works," I am an apostate and bound for much suffering. People can't be morally "different but equal" in any type of moral reasoning that I understand. So now that I've played out some of the steps expected of an apostate, I am clearly morally inferior. It's a little depressing to have yet two more family members feel that way about me.