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?


Blogger paranoidfr33k said...

Great post. I have to say that I have committed the same sin. I gathered a bunch of information and when the whole story turned out differently than what I had been taught, I am told to just forget or ignore the information that doesn't fit into the myth. I wouldn't call myself an intellectual, but I have thought about it all a lot differently over the last few years enough to realize that my belief system was very flawed.


August 31, 2007 at 9:06 AM  
Blogger Shadow Spawn said...

I don't have a whole lot to say on the matter really. My biggest problem with intellectualism is the brand of which tends to brush aside spirituality. There is nothing wrong with education or thinking, but it is faulty in my opinion to ignore the kind of knowledge that can only come from communion with the Spirit of God.

President Hinkley addresses it so much better than I in a talk he gave in 1983. I will paste some key quotes from his talk as food for thought.

Some appear intent on trying to destroy us. They mock that which is sacred. They belittle that which we call divine. Some have said that we are trapped by our history, others have worked with great diligence seeking flaws in our early leaders. We are accused of being opposed to reason and rational thought.

These are serious accusations against a church which teaches that “the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” (D&C 93:36.) These are serious charges against a Church which each year spends millions of dollars of its resources on the education of its youth. Those who criticize us have lost sight of the glory and wonder of this work. In their cultivated faultfinding, they see not the majesty of the great onrolling of this cause. They have lost sight of the spark that was kindled in Palmyra which is now lighting fires of faith across the earth in many lands and in many languages. Wearing the spectacles of humanism, they fail to realize that spiritual emotions, with recognition of the influence of the Holy Spirit, had as much to do with the actions of our forebears as did the processes of the mind. They have failed to realize that religion is as much concerned with the heart as it is with the intellect.

This leads me to say a few words on intellectualism. A scholar once expressed the view that the Church is an enemy of intellectualism. If he meant by intellectualism that branch of philosophy which teaches “the doctrine that knowledge is wholly or chiefly derived from pure reason” and “that reason is the final principle of reality,” then, yes, we are opposed to so narrow an interpretation as applicable to religion. (Quotations from the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, p. 738.) Such an interpretation excludes the power of the Holy Spirit in speaking to and through men.

Of course we believe in the cultivation of the mind, but the intellect is not the only source of knowledge. There is a promise, given under inspiration from the Almighty, set forth in these beautiful words: “God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost.” (D&C 121:26.)

The humanists who criticize the Lord’s work, the so-called intellectualists who demean, speak only from ignorance of spiritual manifestation. They have not heard the voice of the Spirit. They have not heard it because they have not sought after it and prepared themselves to be worthy of it. Then, supposing that knowledge comes only of reasoning and of the workings of the mind, they deny that which comes by the power of the Holy Ghost.

The things of God are understood by the Spirit of God. That Spirit is real. To those who have experienced its workings, the knowledge so gained is as real as that which is acquired through the operation of the five senses. I testify of this. And I am confident that most members of the Church can so testify.

September 1, 2007 at 12:50 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Too often there is a categorization of "intellectual" vs. "anti-intellectual" and the second, as you put it, is often reclassified as those who have faith. I have, in my experience with many varieties of people over the years, encountered another variety of person that really seems far more common but far too often called out: the pseudo-intellectual. This group tends to seek out information for the sole purpose of sounding knowledgeable and important to the ignorant, but when challenged by someone who is equal (or above) their abilities or knowledge, they wilt. I would not assume, Uj, that you are a pseudo-intellectual. I just know that you did not mention this caste. One great example of a pseudo-intellectual I can give you is the son of my mother's step-brother, who I think of as a cousin and a friend. One night he decided to attack my beliefs with a statement that essentially said, "If you have not experienced something yourself, then you cannot rely on it and therefore it is worthless." My reply was obviously unexpected when I said, "Then you, as a math student, must throw out all the mathematics you study based on the work of those who have gone before. You rely on their work to go forward in your research and study, but you cannot do so based on what you just said." Within a few minutes of that reply, he wanted to change the subject on the grounds that "He didn't want anyone to get offended." I assured him I was not offended, but he clearly did not want to be challenged so. You see, he'd also called me an "anti-intellectual" in that discussion, which is simply ludicrous. I am not, nor have I ever been, an "anti-intellectual". I enjoy learning for the sake of learning. I find myself absorbing information that I consider useless even as I absorb it, but I do so because I am naturally curious about life. You might say I have voyeuristic tendencies, in that I like to observe life and the lives of others. I probably take as great a joy in watching someone else do something they love as I do in doing something I love. I have digressed, though. My point in this post was to say that there are not simply two camps. I am sure you did not mean to suggest there were, but I wanted to point out the one I found quite prevalant but obviously overlooked in your discussion. Again, the world is full of pseudo-intellectuals looking to impress someone. You might even consider me one. I might even be guilty of it at times.

SS, great quotes. I enjoyed reading them.

September 8, 2007 at 11:18 PM  
Blogger Sister Mary Lisa said...

From my point of view, when I look at those quotes with my own idea in mind (not to discount any of yours at all) that perhaps God is not there, and perhaps the church leaders like Gordon B. Hinckley want people to remain faithful for reasons of their own, and they KNOW that people may leave if they start thinking too deeply beyond the narrow, beautiful curriculum the First Presidencies have honed down with much precision and care...well, what else but those words could he say? Anything else would lead to the members not following the plan he has set out for them.

Welcome back, Robert. Missed you.

September 13, 2007 at 2:44 PM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...


Am I a psuedo-musician? A pseudo-athelete? I am not the best at anything I do (except loving my wife, I guess). I would not try to trade fours with John Coltrane, were he alive. I would get out of the way. I think you may be a bit harsh on intellectuals who are less intelligent than other intellectuals (which is all of them but a never-to-be-identified one).

Your relay of an interchange doesn't sound psuedo-intellectual, just like faulty reasoning. Surely even the best intellectual will do that from time to time, just as Michael Jordan missed free throws.

September 13, 2007 at 5:45 PM  
Blogger Ujlapana said...


Hopefully you're still around--I have been so neglectful of my blog lately!

I do not understand a "brand of intellectualism" that brushes aside spirituality. There are intellectuals who realize (you would say incorrectly, I would not) that spiritual experiences are profoundly personally meaningful but not reflective of objective reality. As someone who has reached that conclusion (but continues to collect data, for and against), I will respond to this statement you quoted: They have not heard the voice of the Spirit. They have not heard it because they have not sought after it and prepared themselves to be worthy of it. Then, supposing that knowledge comes only of reasoning and of the workings of the mind, they deny that which comes by the power of the Holy Ghost.

The things of God are understood by the Spirit of God. That Spirit is real. To those who have experienced its workings, the knowledge so gained is as real as that which is acquired through the operation of the five senses.

You see, I have experienced these workings. In truly incredible ways. And, being born in the church, I "knew" how to correctly interpret them. It was only after learning over many years about others' spiritual experiences to the contrary (e.g. powerful life-changing answers to prayers that one should become a modern plural wife, or that one should leave Mormonism for Catholicism, or that Mao Tse Tung was a great leader) that I gained the humility to question my certainty. It was very disorienting, psychologically. But it was data I had to deal with--that's just how I'm wired. So I found the only logical explanation I could think of (and stated above). The alternative, that Mormon spiritual experiences (including mine) were "true" while others (to leave Mormonism, for example) were "false" made no sense. Learning about how psychotropic drugs can create similar morally-uplifting and profound life-changes really put some of my previous assumptions into question! If someone can bridge that divide, I'll be much obliged.

September 13, 2007 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

You're right. I'm too harsh. Calling them pseudo-anything is mean... but it's my term for it. Why? Because they are pretending to be something they are not, like the kid on the basketball court who just destroyed a bunch of younger kids telling them, "Don't you know I'm Michael Jordam?" There are definitely people who pretend to be gifted (or more gifted than they are) for the sake of fun. It just sometimes goes too far when they do so with the full expectation that people agree with what they're espousing.

An example: an eighth grade math teacher tells any student who asks a question she can't answer adequately "you're smart, you should understand this." which leaves them concluding, "Since I don't, I must not be smart." The teacher's intent is to make them think that and shut up because the teacher is, in fact, the one who is stupid. That teacher therefore earns the label "pseudo-intellectual" because she pretends to be one in a given subject but clearly is not. Does it make her a bad person to not be a gifted math teacher? Not at all. Does it make her a bad person to teach gifted math when she is not a gifted math teacher? Perhaps not, if she is the best available and is teaching to the best of her ability. But if she is teaching such a class, and is not capable of it, it tends to draw the label "bad person" when she tries to make people think they are stupid because she's a poor teacher. (And yes, the illustration is a true story; I was not harmed by her but many of my friends hate math to this day because she made them think they were stupid in the subject)

In my cousin's case, he qualifies because of the way he talks to people. He loves to spout of weird math concepts that many people who have math undergraduate degrees might not have encountered as if he is discussing the weather, and if you challenge something he says he labels you an "anti-intellectual" to avoid further debate. For all I know, he's making up the terms he spouts off, but I suspect he's not. He just wants to make sure you know he's smarter than you, and a lot of people surely accept that he is.

Yes, I know, I should get over it.

As for the way you began to see your knowledge of the Spirit speaking to you, recently scientists have been able to induce out of budy experiences. Some drugs can give people the chemicals to make them feel happy (or REALLY happy). Just because the experience of the Spirit can be similar to another feeling, and just because people of other faiths can have confirmations of the Spirit, it does not mean that the confirmation of truth the Spirit gives is not real or true. It simply means it can be likened to other things.

September 16, 2007 at 8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hinkley's a windy old gas bag, isn't he? His statement that the Spirit is real doesn't prove that it is. Nor does stating that he is testifying about it lend any weight to his statement; it is entirely unprovable. He can do or say nothing that gives any proof. At best, perhaps, we can agree that he says it and that is a symptom of his belief. That's all, folks.

September 17, 2007 at 8:53 PM  
Blogger paranoidfr33k said...

Feeling the spirit is the one proof that is actually tangible, if you can call it that. The meaning that we get from these "feelings" rely entirely on our perspective at the exact moment that it happens. When you pray about the truthfulness of the BOM, if you feel the spirit, you think its confirming that it is true. The point is that this feeling is not owned by the heavens, its all in our heads. Because we are able to produce the same feelings without any context of religion tells me that religion uses these "feelings" in the wrong context. Religion takes something that happens regardless of content and forces divinity on it in order to get people to beleive the same way that they do.


September 18, 2007 at 6:48 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home