Today’s guest post comes from Ulysseus, a frequent commenter at Mormon Matters and elsewhere in the b’nacle. His website can be found here.
To take a line from Shakespeare — a pox upon both your houses. The Ex-Mos and TBMs continue to argue past each other and never the twain shall meet. While the thought of a kind, loving heavenly being comforts and then closes the ears of the believer, the list of inconsistencies, logical disconnects and “anti-Mormon” cliches assuages and then closes the ears of the non-believer.
Unless you frame your debate, it will continue to be unproductive, each side creating their own echo chamber of reinforcement until the cacophony makes it impossible for anyone to hear what is going on.
Here is where I would propose to take the discussion: How do you reconcile the conflicts? To quote this guy I once read, “By proving contraries, truth is made manifest.” Bonus points if you can tell me who said that. The discussion then moves from cliche and rote response to a value and factual discussion in an attempt to find common ground.
For example: Blacks and the priesthood. The Word of God is for all of God’s children. You are punished for your own sins, not Adam’s transgressions (or Cain’s.) Racism is a rampant cultural and historical phenomenon which prompted violent conflict between those who thought racism violated God’s law and those who believed their race was chosen by God to rule over the lesser beings (both sides used religion as the basis for their beliefs — one of those contraries Joseph was talking about.).
The argument came to a head in the spring of 1820 (bonus points if you know what else happened in the spring of 1820) in the United States with a Missouri Compromise. The Compromise held the Union together for about forty more years until war broke out, but the entire time temperatures were broiling on the race issue in the United States. Northern (upper state New York) abolitionist leaning religions moving south into Missouri and southern Illinois were not well received.
Not surprising that depending on your viewpoint the ban on blacks holding the priesthood came from:
a) false doctrine;
b) the human capacity for self-deception while striving for self-preservation;
c) individual racism of some church leaders;
d) conforming to the current societal norms; or
e) some other reason arising out of the factual scenario.
The anti- and the pro- both believe that the whole racism thing was a bad idea, they just get there different ways. Conflict resolved, sort of.
So who is right? How should we define, the capital T, “Truth”? I’m going to come clean right now — I’m in the Joseph Smith camp on this one, at least for how to determine Truth. The reason I’m in the Joseph Smith camp is that he is also in the historical philosophical tradition of the American Enlightenment and the scientific method and he made one of the first attempts to apply that philosophy to religious thought. Joseph Smith also had a strong sense of American individualism — study it out and figure it out for yourself. How he succeeded can be argued, but I love the empirical, scientific approach to religion. (To avoid numerous digressions into atheism, geology, cosmology and science, I’m only talking in this post about applying an empirical, scientific approach to internal subjective experience.)
The scientific method gives us a mechanism for creating hierarchal judgments on different hypotheses — the hypothesis that is the most consistent with all the data is the most correct, the most true hypothesis.
Another way of saying this is Truth is inclusive. If you draw lines that exclude, you don’t have the Truth, you’ve left something out.
Joseph Smith believed this and it shows in his theology, for example eternal progression and baptism for the dead. He wanted everything included and this is a huge comfort point for believers. It leads to a Mormon mother’s common belief that a non-believing child can eventually end up in the temple and end up included, despite the past. What a comfort that must be to her, based on her own world view.
So I am looking at TBM’s hypothesis which says “my view is right because it is more inclusive, God’s plan provides eternal salvation for all mankind, even Ex-Mos.”
The conflicting Ex-Mo hypothesis is “my view is right because the reality and data coming out of the religion is that the religion does exactly the opposite of include all mankind, it excludes everyone except the elect.”
So there are the two contraries, how do we manifest Truth. In the spirit of Johnathan Swift, let me make a modest proposal: Eat the children to stop the famine (sorry literary joke that I couldn’t resist).
Seriously, the TBM’s hypothesis fails because despite the efforts of the Church at inclusion theologically, the reality is countless people feel excluded and some are even forced to be excluded by a process known as excommunication. Just makes the whole “one heart, one mind” thing seem a little narrow and false.
The counter hypothesis and its proponents equally fail because it fails to include the large group who devoutly believes. This makes it equally weak and equally vulnerable to attack by those believers.
My proposed hypothesis, neither of you are correct. I’ve studied it out. Thought about it. Prayed about it. I came up with the answer that neither of you were true. (Told you I was in the Joseph Smith camp).