Unsolved Puzzle

August 29, 2010
By

impossible sudoku

Can you solve this?

A few years ago I wondered what it means to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I wondered: is it ok if my testimony dwells down to, “I really don’t believe in all of this spiritual stuff, but from an organizational perspective, I believe that the church is great at moving and shaking…and it has moved and shaken me to be a better person”?

I concluded that was not ok. A religion isn’t just a collection of practical life advice and a church isn’t just the hub to receive and practice such advice. It is a community of faith, belief, and hope. (And when one is differently directed in the latter aspects, the organizational stuff will often wreak havoc as well.)

I realized that if I didn’t have those latter things (I don’t), then it wouldn’t make sense to do certain other things (e.g., keep pretending to have these things in order to “progress” in the priesthood, go on a mission, speak out publicly on behalf of the church, or, perhaps, even go to church.)

…Yet, I guess you’d call me one of those guys who leaves the church but can’t leave it alone.

You see, there are several unsolved puzzles that I feel I just can’t drop.

I can’t drop that the vast majority of the human race has no idea about what I’m talking, and that I have no idea about what the vast majority of the human race is talking. I can’t ignore that there is a deep difference between most of you and me.

For me, speaking about God is an academic thing. It is like analyzing a piece of fiction. Sometimes, I’m bored with the novel. I don’t get the poetry. Sometimes, it’s kinda neat and inspiring, and I like the special effects from the movie or the play.

But at the end of the day, it feels like we are talking about an artificiality distinct and separate from reality. That’s how it feels like to me.

Praying is even worse. It’s like when you send an email to a bad address, but unlike email, I don’t get a bounceback email. So I have to wonder if there was a destination, if it even reached, if the return mail is coming back, if there is any return mail. It’s not a totally productive use of time.

But…that’s not how it feels like to most other people, is it? For most other people, the reason they talk about God (even if they differ on who or what God is, what is his [or her {or its}] number, gender, or personality) is because God is real to them. In fact, God is more real than the physical world you and I live and breathe and move in. It may not be as extreme as that, but somehow, I don’t believe most people are “playing” religion.

And I don’t get that. Not even in the slightest.

I know some atheists wave this off and wave this away, but whether out of charity and respect or out of sheer necessity, I cannot. This doesn’t mean I believe in these stories and experiences any more, but that this is one puzzle that is wanting of a solution.

In a way, the reason I am involved in the Mormon community (in the tenuous, will-not-save-me I’m-cheating-myself-by-using-it-as-a-ward-substitute online bloggernacle way) is because Mormonism continues to be so unfamiliar to me, even though it is really familiar to me.

The forty-sixth section of the Doctrine and Covenants (let us call it The People) elaborates a lot about spiritual gifts. Most times, people only mention a couple:

11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.

13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

I think it is helpful to point out that certain things like belief itself may be gifts, instead of things that we can secure for ourselves or just “choose” to have if we just try harder. But these aren’t the only gifts possible, and the two gifts discussed in verses 13 and 14 are not a binary (i.e., if you don’t have knowledge, then it isn’t necessarily true that you will be able to believe on the words of others).

So what about those for whom it all just doesn’t make sense, doesn’t appeal, doesn’t seem real? Might we not also have eternal life…or is it all predicated on continuing faithfully? And then, what is continuing faithful? Is it going to church, even if one answers all the questions about belief in the negative, following commandments with which one may or may not agree, being alienated and alone, or perhaps even being excommunicated but still with stellar activity?

The earlier part of the section addresses a little on how church services and meetings should be held. This also has something interesting.

5 And again I say unto you, ye shall not cast any out of your sacrament meetings who are earnestly seeking the kingdom—I speak this concerning those who are not of the church.

6 And again I say unto you, concerning your confirmation meetings, that if there be any that are not of the church, that are earnestly seeking after the kingdom, ye shall not cast them out.

Again, what does it mean to earnestly seek the kingdom?

I have no idea, but I need to get back to this puzzle I’ve been working on…

94 Responses to Unsolved Puzzle

  1. August 29, 2010 at 6:28 am

    I’d like to suggest that you pick up some AA style literature (I don’t have any alcoholics in my life, but I like the Al Anon materials) and their discussions about finding and responding to a higher power. It is a different approach to finding God, and one that might work for you if other approaches have not.

  2. August 29, 2010 at 7:07 am

    Oh, this is a great post. You’ve articulated how I feel so well. I was talking to someone a few months ago who was expressing how important the power of the Atonement was in her life every day, and it wasn’t a testimony meeting, it was just a regular conversation while we were out walking. And it hit me that for her, this was a real thing. It’s never been more than a distant, abstract concept for me. I couldn’t imagine what that must be like. I remember reading those scriptures about spiritual gifts and being bummed out that I didn’t get any of them. Not even “to believe on their words.” But I guess that if I haven’t been given the gift, that means I can’t be condemned for not being able to believe.

  3. August 29, 2010 at 9:34 am

    re 1:

    Stephen, I wonder if there is any way to find the gist of these online? I imagine that’s the case…

    re 2:

    philomytha, exactly.

    But I think one thing that really intrigued me about the passage on spiritual gifts is that there are just so many more than “know” and “believe”. There is: “to know the differences in administration, to know the diversities of operation, the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge (that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge), to have faith and be healed, or to have faith and heal, to work miracles, to prophesy, to discern spirits, to speak with tongues, or to interpret tongues.

    Several New Testament passages mention similar gifts, and some of them seem quite different than the average “spiritual” gifts (e.g., the gift to be able to give cheerfully).

    So, the problem I have isn’t so much thinking “that I didn’t get any of them” but that there is a hierarchy of gifts and i didn’t get the really good ones?

  4. August 29, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Andrew:

    You have gifts of writing that bring healing. You have skills with accounting that can help people stay out of a great deal of trouble. Evolution (if you prefer) has blessed you abundantly and placed you in a place in history with an internet and the knowledge to use it.

    Those with the gift of faith “know” you have gifts that are needed; there is no hierarchy greater than that which is NEEDED. So enjoy the exercise of your gifts even if you don’t see the source. If the Source is Godm He’ll get around to letting you know at the proper time.

  5. August 29, 2010 at 11:19 am

    FireTag,

    these gifts are pretty lame, though.

  6. Tanya W
    August 29, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Wow… I feel that as time goes by I’m becoming broader minded… once upon a time I would have felt critical of someone who feels the way you do. I would have wondered, “what is he doing wrong that he has not received a testimony?”.

    Now I feel I have grown up a lot in my understanding of the way things are. I hope one day we will understand spiritual gifts better (and all gifts for that matter)… why some seem to receive them in abundance and others seem to be lacking in them. I think it might be compared to other gifts of understanding… like physical science or chemistry or higher mathematics. Some people simply don’t get it… they lose interest. For others the puzzle fits together nicely and is easy to understand. For the many who never really grasp the sciences or math, it doesn’t make the science and math less valid. It’s a difficult comparison, because the science and math can be proven, whereas the spiritual understanding and learning cannot.

    I can only say for myself that I’m very thankful for the spiritual gifts I have been given. I can say as Simon Barjona was told by Christ… “flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto [me}, but my Father which is in heaven.” I feel happy for having received that learning and understanding, which is truly a help in my life. I feel sad that so many struggle on a pathway of not have received those gifts. I have faith and hope that as it says so many places in the scriptures, “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last”… many who have struggled through life without certain gifts, whether it be spiritual gifts, or temporal gifts, will have their chance to be “first”. I feel so much happiness in the thought of standing back to see people receive those gifts beyond this life… of seeing the poor of the earth and those who have had so much struggle be “first”.

    Whether it comes to you here or there, I am certain it will come. In the meantime, as one who has been given a lot of gifts, I need to press forward through my own struggles in life as well, some of which are related to the insensitivity of church members who see things in a way that is too black and white, and who judge others who they don’t understand too freely, and who do not reach out to members of their families, neighborhoods, and communities in the way it seems obvious that Christ would have us do.

  7. August 29, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    Great comment, Tanya…thanks!

  8. August 29, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Somebody 35,000 years ago had a really lame gift. Empathy for wolves that denned up around campfires hoping to steal scraps. Turned out to be vital. Humans wouldn’t be nearly what we are without dogs.

    If there is no God, as you believe, then who has been given the lame gift?

  9. August 29, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    If I could believe the world has magic, and that I could be a wizard, I’d be strongly tempted to do that whether or not magic and wizardry actually existed.

  10. August 29, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    That sounds like the basis for a good post in and of itself.

  11. August 29, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Cue Puddleglum and Narnia as well

  12. David
    August 29, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Andrew S, I’m assuming you’re aware that the Sudoku puzzle you present has no solution. As it turns out there are some puzzles that on the surface are compliant with the founding rules yet don’t have a solution. You can use all the usual methods to attempt to complete the puzzle–to reveal the inherent beauty and order of the completed product as it fits together step-by-step–except the initial conditions are still wrong. The starting number placements don’t break the rules, but they still don’t fit into the happy class of combinations that can be used to deduce a valid solution. It’s insidious, isn’t it? You start on a journey fully expecting to reach a destination promised. You play by the rules and use all the techniques you have acquired to solve the puzzle only at the end to realize that it doesn’t add up. Did you make a mistake somewhere along the way? You trace back your steps looking for the fatefully wrong turn, but you never find it. If you are persistent you work it all the way back to the beginning. “Let me try again,” you tell yourself. It goes more quickly this time since you are now more familiar with the territory, but again, to your disappointment, the invalidity of your path becomes obvious.

    I don’t intend to be patronizing in any way, but I can’t help but wonder if something about your life that you never even considered is what is keeping you from the spiritual life you find lacking. It seems you are playing by the rules, but maybe your paradigm is all wrong. You’ve so eloquently posed a number of questions, but maybe these questions are the wrong ones to ask. Perhaps you are becoming too comfortable in the predicament of which you write.

    As for spiritual gifts, note that your quoted verse 11 reads “and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.” This means you are entitled to at least one, and I don’t think it is in any way “lame,” whatever it may be.

  13. August 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Fantastic post — this so completely describes how I feel about the church. Understanding and not understanding. Not wanting to participate any more but being unable to delete the fingerprints of the faith from memory and experience. Unsure of whether or not it has value, and ought to be feared, ignored, fought against, or fought for.

  14. MoHoHawaii
    August 29, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    I’ve thought a lot about spiritual gifts myself, being a person for whom faith never came easily. In the end, I think it boils down to personality. You see a wide variety of traits in a population– timid vs bold, social vs solitary, mild vs volatile, methodical vs impulsive, etc. I think believing vs skeptical is one of these. It’s not good or bad; it’s just a natural variation of temperament.

    From the perspective of evolutionary biology, variations make sense because of the varying kinds of selection pressure. Genes that produce overly skeptical people would’t survive if those who possess them diregard tribal wisdom about safety. Hence, the human tendency toward credulity. On the other hand, genes that promote a skeptical nature survive better when adherence to the common wisdom isn’t the safe thing to do. Neither is better than the other. It all depends on the details of the environment.

    The problem is that we’re social creatures. Your issue is really one of social alienation– you perceive yourself to be an odd duck among people with “normal” faith. I can relate. I come from a large Mormon family and I want to keep good relations with them. I think the challenge is to accept the diversity we have (i.e., the variety of spiritual gifts) and truly value what people who are not like us bring to the table. This applies to all sides. People who believe are not better or worse than people who don’t. It’s just natural variation, like the beak of the finch.

  15. August 29, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    re 12:

    yep, David. I was intrigued as well to find it, precisely because of the way you describe it (how is it possible to make a puzzle that seems, in every way, to comply with founding rules, and which…is unresolvable?)

    I can’t help but wonder if something about your life that you never even considered is what is keeping you from the spiritual life you find lacking. It seems you are playing by the rules, but maybe your paradigm is all wrong. You’ve so eloquently posed a number of questions, but maybe these questions are the wrong ones to ask.

    I guess then the question is: what are the right questions to ask? What is the right paradigm? Especially since it seems that 1) there are a lot of paradigms and questions and 2) different paradigms and different questions yield different answers and different results for different people.

    Perhaps you are becoming too comfortable in the predicament of which you write.

    You bet. The discomfort, after all, isn’t within me. It’s in everyone else. I can live quite easily and quite well with myself, my beliefs and (dis)beliefs).

    As for spiritual gifts, note that your quoted verse 11 reads “and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.” This means you are entitled to at least one, and I don’t think it is in any way “lame,” whatever it may be.

    Duly noted. But if some of the gifts are essentially, “administration savviness” or “operations savviness” then this does sound kinda lame. I’m being a little facetious and self-deprecating as an accounting major who has to take a lot of management and operations classes here, but in a way, I’m being serious.

    re 13:

    Molly, thanks for the affirmation/validation!

    re 14:

    MHH, I just think it’s hard (on all sides) to accept that variety and diversity are valuable, instead of things to be discouraged. At one level, we don’t really care who likes vanilla ice cream over chocolate, but it doesn’t seem that every issue is like that. I can see then, how natural variations appear threatening.

  16. August 29, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    I had this long explanation about why the sudoku puzzle is impossible: The simple version, the 3 that must be in column 7 has to be in the top square and the bottom square.

    The answer in this case is not the puzzle is unsolvable, but the solution is it doesn’t work.

    Not an answer a believer in sudoku comes to easily, but the only logical answer if you use the gift of logic.

  17. August 29, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    “The solution is it doesn’t work”

    Wow, that’s kinda…disturbing. But it makes sense.

  18. Glurk
    August 29, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    The problem with the ice cream analogy is that when someone says they don’t like chocolate, I think, “More for me!” But that attitude really doesn’t fit with religion.

  19. Peter
    August 29, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Ah, Andrew, you and my best friend have much in common. He expresses the same–almost frustration on his part. For me, it is so integral to my existence that it overwhelms the intellectual stuff that normally makes me a skeptic. For his part, I think it boils down to an academic exercise that has never panned out–a sort of intense curiosity–and the worry about being duped. I’m not sure that these motivation make it “work” so to speak. I should surmise (as it has been in my case) an intense sense of salvation from a part of my life that was threatening to overwhelm me. One may call it sin (which one can also argue is a cultural phenomenon) but also something as human, real, and transparent to every generation and culture such as loneliness, death, sickness, or loss of some kind. Casting about towards God in this sort of personal apocalypse seems to be the clue here. Is is possible that one is being duped through an emotional release they call God. Perhaps. But to feel the change of love in a perpetual fashion is very compelling. It’s the ultimate empirical experiment that seems to be able to trump almost every other juxtaposed evidence and personal experience.

    I find that many TBM’s as well as Exmo’s and DAMU’s find this a mystery. Many TBM’s never experience or refuse to accept staring into the abyss and so their Mormonism is very Calvinist to them. Others have a genetic predisposition to be emotionally restrained, stunted, controlled, or distrusting. Feelings are the antithesis of modernity, for example. They are hard to trust, whereas for others, emotions are the only thing you CAN trust. I’m not sure Nietzsche would disagree. Reason has its own skeletons as well. Maybe as a grand experiment, there is a place for intimacy with your own subatomic energy. Call it Dark Matter, Spirit, or even just signals firing in the brain–the impulses behind it have God attached in the physics.

    On the other hand, like my friend, it seems some have stared into this abyss and have come up with nothing. I’m not sure what that means. It could be tactical error. It could be the lack of the God gene. I think only a person can answer that for themselves whether they have made that effort, earnestly seeking with real intent. What makes the puzzle hard is that its replicable, but not observable. Maybe that’s the point.

  20. August 30, 2010 at 12:29 am

    re 18:

    Glurk, I had to play with that idea for a second…it made me think of ice cream as pizza…only so many slices to go around. but you’re right…the analogy doesn’t work.

    re 19:

    Peter, I can see some of how you describe it, but it also seems a little different. For example, the worry about being duped isn’t all that central at all, and the intense curiosity is more about trying to understand other people’s experiences rather than trying to have other people’s experiences for myself. If that makes any sense.

    I can understand loneliness, but not so much sin or salvation — the latter two just do not really compute conceptually. Death doesn’t really affect me as much as it does other people, so I don’t see why it is such a big deal. Sickness and pain are huge deals to me, however.

    Could you clarify something though:

    I find that many TBM’s as well as Exmo’s and DAMU’s find this a mystery. Many TBM’s never experience or refuse to accept staring into the abyss and so their Mormonism is very Calvinist to them.

    What is “staring into the abyss”? Or to be more precise, what is it ABOUT staring into the abyss that — if someone does not do it — makes their faith “very Calvinist”? I find this interesting because Mormonism is often the furthest thing away from Calvinism.

  21. August 30, 2010 at 6:38 am

    This quote, from a newsletter, seems to fit:

    Preachers who are not believers,” [available online], by Dennett and Linda LaScola. Sample:

    “A gulf opened up between what one says from the pulpit and what one has been taught in seminary. This gulf is well-known in religious circles. The eminent biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman’s widely read book, Misquoting Jesus (2005), recounts his own odyssey from the seminary into secular scholarship, beginning in the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, a famously conservative seminary which required its professors to sign a statement declaring the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, a declaration that was increasingly hard for Ehrman to underwrite by his own research. The Dishonest Church (2003), by retired United Church of Christ minister, Jack Good, explores this ‘tragic divide’ that poisons the relationship between the laity and the clergy. Every Christian minister, not just those in our little study, has to confront this awkwardness, and no doubt there are many more ways of responding to it than our small sample illustrates. How widespread is this phenomenon? When we asked one of the other pastors we talked with initially if he thought clergy with his views were rare in the church, he responded, ‘Oh, you can’t go through seminary and come out believing in God!’ Surely an overstatement, but a telling one.”

  22. August 30, 2010 at 6:44 am

    Time to drop the posting name with the typo and all.

    The various “”Anon groups generally do not have much literature on-line.

    But, there is this discussion that might get you started: http://www.suite101.com/content/using-al-anon-when-you-arent-comfortable-with-the-twelve-steps-a244347

  23. August 30, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Andrew – Thank you for keeping the ‘excommunicated but devout’ on your map of possible responses. It means a lot to me to actually exist in your universe.

    I like very much what Mohohawaii has to say about this. I think skepticism is actually a gift, especially skepticism motivated by charity. While I can imagine an ideal world ruled by pure love, where faith is universal, I can’t imagine this world we actually live in, ruled by arrogance, greed and religious violence, without atheists.

    The metaphor of different gifts explains that our individual gifts (whether we think them lame or not) have value only in communion with others. Here’s another metaphor: suppose every single taste receptor in my tongue could only taste salt? It’s the mass of different taste receptors that make it possible for me to appreciate very complex flavors (and also tell the difference between stuff that is potentially toxic and stuff that is nourishing).

    This is why no religious community should IMHO ever drive its skeptics and unbelievers out. It’s why I wish that your initial idea of participating in a community because you see value in it could suffice (even if you don’t see the same value in it that most others do).

    But then, what do I know, excommunicated though devout that I am?

  24. jmb275
    August 30, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Awesome post Andrew S. I always enjoy your thought provoking posts.

    For me, speaking about God is an academic thing. It is like analyzing a piece of fiction. Sometimes, I’m bored with the novel. I don’t get the poetry. Sometimes, it’s kinda neat and inspiring, and I like the special effects from the movie or the play.

    But at the end of the day, it feels like we are talking about an artificiality distinct and separate from reality. That’s how it feels like to me.

    I can really relate to this. There was a time for me when it was real, all of it (and I’m not saying there’s no part now). I can tell because of the language that I used in my journal entries. At some point, however, I realized I could think about things from an analytical viewpoint. In my patriarchal blessing I am told that my proclivity toward analysis is a gift. This leaves me in an even more precarious spot since my analysis is what brought out my skepticism in many of the claims of the church.

    So what about those for whom it all just doesn’t make sense, doesn’t appeal, doesn’t seem real? Might we not also have eternal life…or is it all predicated on continuing faithfully?

    This is my question too. I’m left wondering why God would leave people like me without a way to have eternal life (at least one that’s not totally foreign to my personality). Or does he? And how would I know? Ironically, I feel a lot like I imagine Joseph Smith must have felt. And yet, I have not had a vision.

  25. August 30, 2010 at 10:56 am

    re 21:

    Stephen, I saw that in an email I got recently…(oh wait, of course, you sent that email!)

    I have read quite a few things in the past discussing that issue as well, so I guess I’ve been desensitized to it a little more, but what intrigues me even more is that the concluding statement “You can’t go through seminary and come out believing in god” just isn’t universally true. Yes, it may warp the conception of god that people have (e.g., move up a couple of Fowler faith stages in the process), but there is another divide that I just don’t get — those who come out with faith trashed and those who come out with a different, yet still existent faith.

    There have been several posts about this in the bloggernacle and other sites. It’s not like *everyone* apostatizes when they learn x fact or y information…so what intrigues me is how different people can have very different reactions to the same facts (which I think that *good* apologetics and *good* criticism, for the most part, agree on the facts…but differs in conclusions and explanations.)

    re 22: Yeah, I did some looking online as well…and was able to find much similar to the link you posted, but to me, it seems woefully bare.

    I mean, take step 2, for example. “Came to believe…” But none of these sites say *how* someone comes to believe in such things. From there, most of the resources I saw are very careful to emphasize the individualistic nature of whatever higher power/god one invokes (e.g., step 3 clearly says “as we understand him”), and also to emphasize the sense of awkwardness that 12 step programs can pose for nonbelievers. But even though links such as this one and others ask the question, “What does a person do if he or she doesn’t believe in God?”…these questions are never answered, or they are never answered satisfactorily. At best, the answer is, “Just deal with it.” or “well there are other good things so…”

    re 23:

    J G-W, I totally have your back.

    I think that what you say — that individual gifts have value only in communion with others — is WHY some are “lame.”

    What I was thinking (but couldn’t quite express) is this: what use is it to have a gift such as skepticism when what it does is make the community seem frustrating, alien, etc.,? What use is it to have a gift if you have directed it improperly? If earnestly seeking the kingdom is important (the community in which we should be), then it’s kinda lame — no matter what gifts one has — if one doesn’t first have an affinity for the kingdom.

    It seems nice to say, “that’s why no religious community should IMHO ever drive its skeptics and unbelievers out,” BUT I can understand the reasonings of faithful members who want to preserve a faith community — a religion of believers — and don’t want to be trampled and overrun by people who don’t believe, or people whose beliefs are counter to the community’s. Boundary maintenance is a necessary part of communities, and I can understand why some people would keep the boundary more tightly packed in.

    I mean, considering your excommunication, don’t you understand at some level that your message is threatening? Your message that God commands you to stay faithful to the gospel and faithful to *gasp* your husband? Your message both upholds the church and subverts it.

    re 24:

    jmb, the questions in your last paragraph are especially intriguing since it was your gift — your proclivity toward analysis — that led you “astray.”

    in a Calvinist reprobates vs. elect sense, this is all easily answerable (in an albeit depressing way).why would God leave people like you and me without a way to have eternal life? BECAUSE WE NEVER DESERVED IT; DEAL WITH IT SINNNERRRRS!!

    but in an LDS sense (or in most senses), this answer really doesn’t seem satisfying.

  26. August 30, 2010 at 11:16 am

    With great power comes great responsibility.

    Skeptics have a gift that believers need, but skeptics also have to find ways to use their gifts in a way that is respectful of faith.

    For instance, it DOES become obnoxious in Sunday School when a crank skeptic wants to ride their particular hobby horse.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen some really beautiful moments where one individual expresses honest doubt about something, and then others respond by acknowledging the validity of the reasons for doubting, and then share their own reasons for affirming faith. Usually, those dialogs are most powerful when people on both sides of the faith-hope / doubt-concern divide are able to suspend their own need to convince the other (i.e., are able to set aside their own insecurity), and just accept that sometimes there are things we have to grapple with that don’t have easy answers.

    There’s NO gift that doesn’t lose its luster when not exercised in community. So that would make them ALL lame, by what your saying.

    But further consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13. When we receive the fullness (i.e., when the pure love of Christ rules) all other spiritual gifts will fade. In other words, with the sole exception of the gift of pure charity, all other gifts are contingent. So, in effect, they’re all lame except love. So seek after the best gift: Love.

  27. August 30, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    re 26:

    At some point, being “respectful of faith” involves just shutting up completely, because it’s possible that anything else that would be said would be seen as fuming, ranting, axe grinding, etc.

  28. Jen
    August 30, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    I am a skeptic, but I also still have faith in God and believe He is there, even when I “feel” He isn’t, I still “know” He is, if that makes sense. I don’t understand how it would be to not have this within me, but I DO know that because of the unfairness of our experiences in life, we will have our losses (including gifts we were not given) made up to us. As Tanya W said “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” I hope you know that you are loved Andrew S. I appreciate you and thank you for your posts. You help open up minds that need to be open and through your struggles teach others how to be able to connect better with one another. Hang in there and keep plugging along, I believe your breakthrough will come.

  29. Thomas
    August 30, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    #21 Stephen: Thanks for the link.

    It’s uncharitable, and I promise to say ten Hail Marys for my sins, but my impression on reading the thoughts of the disbelieving pastors was: What a lot of third-raters. What shallow thought processes seem to have gone into the rejection of faith in a living God.

    Maybe all the really brilliant minds all went into physics, started communications companies, and became billionaires. I can’t read John Spong (praised to the moon by a couple of the participants) and shake the impression that he’s just reiterating the same arguments made by village atheists for centuries, which (as more thoughtful people have argued) aren’t as compelling as they’re passed of to be.

    Someone once wrote that we need better atheists, worthy of the skeptical tradition that, in the past, did so much to force religious believers to confront the illogic and cruelty in much of what had come down to them. Ironically, I think that kind of atheism — which at the bottom is fidelity to the absolute, and maybe divine, virtues of prudence and moral judgment — is itself a manifestation of a spiritual gift, that is, a strong sense of those virtues that prevents people from swallowing foolishness and meanness simply because it comes bundled with a true religious operating system.

  30. SkepticTheist
    August 30, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    I may be about to say something unpopular, and I can hear people screaming with pitchforks running after me…. But being faithful means that you sticking with it until you see the miracle that gives you further light and knowledge, whether that be a testimony, or even a particle of belief, if not a testimony. If all you have is a desire to believe, unless you do continue faithful, you will not even be blessed with belief. So unless you come back to the Church and start being faithful, you will not even be blessed with belief. You may even have to live faithful for decades before your desire to believe even changes into belief. If you don’t even have a desire to believe, then I don’t know what to say. But you sound like the fact that you have unresolved issues means that you have a desire to have those issues worked out. If you use that desire to have those issues worked out slowly turn into a desire to believe once again to where you come back, perhaps your unresolved issues will eventually work out. But I assert that you will remain in confusion on those issues until you start working towards being faithful to the degree that they do get worked out.

  31. Thomas
    August 30, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    If all you have is a desire to believe, unless you do continue faithful, you will not even be blessed with belief. So unless you come back to the Church and start being faithful, you will not even be blessed with belief.

    Hope this doesn’t come across as a “pitchfork,” or inspire return pitchfork-fire, but there’s a breakdown in that logic.

    If all you have is a desire to believe, then the condition for being blessed with further light and knowledge is — acting consistent with a desire to believe. That does not necessarily mean “come back to the Church and start being faithful.” That sounds like the condition for being blessed with further light and knowledge when you already have full-blown belief.

    “You may even have to live faithful for decades before your desire to believe even changes into belief.”

    Or, if the evangelical Protestants are right, you may live your faithful decades, get trampled by a rogue elephant at age 50, and your desire to believe never ripens into belief. You die an unbeliever, do not pass Go, and perish eternally. Too bad for you.

    Or, less Evangelically, you’ve spent your entire life seeking for something you never found, when a faith more reconcilable with your best understanding was available to you, and could have blessed your life on earth.

    Do you mean to say that a person who only has a desire to believe in Mormonism should spend his life acting as if he really did believe? Doesn’t actual belief carry a greater responsibility than mere “desire to believe”? Is it just to expect someone to make the sacrifices required by full Mormon faith, when he doesn’t have that motivation, but only a shadow of it?

    Having a desire to believe in Mormonism obliges you to continue to search, ponder, and pray; to experiment on the Word, and to act upon whatever truths you come to believe. I don’t agree that it triggers the same full-activity responsibility of outright belief.

  32. August 30, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    re 28:

    Jen, I have no problem with seeing that certain people love me. E.g., my parents, my family, my friends, the bloggers and commenters who don’t write me off as an “anti”, etc., I have a bit of a problem seeing how other people love me when their actions are so inconsistent, but at least their love is *conceivable*.

    But sometimes people say, “God loves you” or “Jesus loves you” and I just can’t even imagine what THAT means.

    re 29:

    I like the phrasing of “religious operating system,” lol

    re 30:

    SkepticTheist, one thing that you mention that still puzzles me is this: “if all you have is a desire to believe,“. When I hear people say this, I wonder if we are not on two different wavelengths…because some people make it sound like they can “choose” their desires. That isn’t the case for me.

    So, a line like “You may even have to live faithful for decades before your desire to believe even changes into belief.” seems absolutely horrid to me. It makes me wonder, “Couldn’t this argument be used in every thing? E.g., I could try this for Islam…just live faithful as a Muslim and perhaps it might take decades but maybe I’ll fake it till I make it?

    It sounds like gambling, and the more likely outcome seems to be that i’ll become spiritually broke(n), not that I’ll win big.

    If you don’t even have a desire to believe, then I don’t know what to say.

    Yeah, this is usually where the disconnect comes out strongest. People generally don’t know what to say. In the same way I can’t even comprehend some concepts of belief, these people can’t comprehend the idea of lack of desire to believe.

    To clarify, my unresolved issue is not lack of belief. I don’t really have problem with that. It’s lack of understanding. Lack of comprehension. It’s a divide where we’re speaking two different languages and not getting through to each other.

    At best, the faith that I have is not that I will believe in god, but rather that I will come to understand what it is that makes someone believe. The faith is that one day, there will be a break through where both sides actually understand the other. Does that distinction make any sense?

  33. Tanya W
    August 30, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    I have to agree that belief carries a greater responsibility than a “desire to believe”. The last couple of posts bring to mind Alma 32, and I think the analogy of a seed and plant goes well here. Perhaps you could evaluate a testimony using these scriptures… and this chapter explains faith in varying degrees… something that can grow into a knowledge.

    So a question: Verse 28 explains that if this “is a good seed, or [if] the word is good… it beginneth to enlarge [your] soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten [your] understanding…” Has your experience in church enlarged your soul or enlightened your understanding? I don’t think that means you have to understand and believe everything… just that you can recognize positive influence and understanding you might not have had otherwise. I would think it very difficult to stick with it had you not had positive experience and some measure of enlightened understanding. Because of my love for Christ and strong belief that the Church of Jesus Christ really is His church, I would not want to encourage anyone to give up in the quest for greater understanding. To the contrary, I would hope that you and others would have endless patience as I would believe the continuing nourishment of a “seed” will ultimately result in a beautiful “tree”. And for that matter, I would hope those of us who already have a “tree” will have endless patience to deal with church members or leaders who may intentionally or unintentionally cut off one of our “branches” and discourage us in the desire to continue nurturing the “tree”.

    It is interesting to note that even some church leaders (for example President Brigham Young before being baptized, and Pres. David O. McKay in his younger years) had their times of struggle for testimony… they lacked the bright testimony or certainty that church of Jesus Christ was indeed Christ’s restored church. I couldn’t possibly judge the decisions other people make when it comes to church activity since the personal understanding can vary so much from one person to the next. Some of my dearest loved ones and the best people I know seem to have not been given the tiniest bit of understanding of spiritual matters. Yet they are so very good and Christlike in their actions, that I have not the slightest doubt of their future salvation.

  34. August 30, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    re 33:

    Tanya, it’s interesting that you bring up Alma 32…I have discussed it several times. It may be one set of scriptures I write about most.

    What I have recognized about the church is that what has enlightened my understanding are portable things. For example, exclusive claims like, “The church is the true church” have not enlarged my soul or enlightened my understanding. Claims like, “I am a child of God” do nothing for me. Claims like, “We can liken the scriptures to myself,” don’t really do anything for me.

    But at least for me, I like the idea of the law of chastity, and the word of wisdom (although I have some quibbles with them as well), so I follow them.

    Basically, since Alma 32 compares the Word to a seed, I realize that for me, the Word does not stir me. It is sometimes disappointing, frustrating, boring, or incomprehensible.

    I would think it very difficult to stick with it had you not had positive experience and some measure of enlightened understanding.

    Well, that’s the thing. The church encourages people to stick with it even if people don’t have positive experiences. Because they can always say, “Well, you must endure to the end! You won’t have a sign until *after* the trial of your faith.” In other words, there is no way out. As a result, I think a lot of people are absolutely miserable in the church, but they stay because they have been led to believe they have to endure to the end. I do not think this is positive or enlightening.

    My question is this: if someone has a boiled seed, then should they continue to nourish it, even though it is dead? When should they “give up” on the seed?

  35. SkepticTheist
    August 31, 2010 at 9:56 am

    No Thomas, actually I didn’t say anything about elephants, silly. I’m only saying that if anybody wants any kind of miracle in life, they have to get off their behind and work for it and stay consistent. And all things, including beliefs are miracles. And we can only decide we want to have them and work for them on our part.

    Andrew, your lack of comprehension comes from lack of ability to comprehend because of lack of consistency in obedience which leads to knowing and comprehending.

  36. Jen
    August 31, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Andrew S-

    This post made me think of couples who are unable to conceive and put all of their time and energy into getting pregnant. We’ve all heard the stories about couples who do every possible thing they can to have a child only to fail. Then, when they finally give up and decide to accept their childless state, they become pregnant. My point? Maybe you need to just accept where you are and change your focus. Accept your seed is boiled and let it go. Accept that you have done everything you can to comprehend and it hasn’t come to you. I’m not saying that when you do this that comprehension will come, but I am not saying that it won’t either. Maybe you’re so consumed in trying to get the answers that there isn’t anyway for them to come because your mind is so full of trying to figure out the problem. Maybe you need to accept and let go of the things you can’t comprehend and give it some time. Who knows?

  37. Jen
    August 31, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Andrew it just came to me…..you need to go to Disneyland. :)

  38. Enna
    August 31, 2010 at 11:46 am

    “In other words, there is no way out”
    When I hit this realization, that God had stacked the decks, that he would always win and I would always lose, I had a bit of a breakthrough. It frustrated me to no end that I couldn’t logically see my way through Mormonism, until I realized I could just let that go. That I didn’t have to see it logically, and I could be the kind of Mormon I was comfortable with being (even if it makes others uncomfortable…)

    I really like the thoughts about how gifts are only useful when we use them within a community, and that all members of the spectrum of belief are valuable to the experience as a whole. As a scientist, that jives with my understanding of populations and evolution, and as an “outsider” in the faith camp, it makes me feel better about still wanting to have a place in the church.

    I used to look at people that are truly devout and think, what am I missing? What did I do wrong? Now I just look at them the same way I look at people that like Adam Sandler movies. They are just different from me. And we are both valuable. I don’t need them to fit in my box, and I don’t need to try and fit in theirs.

  39. Thomas
    August 31, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Andrew S @32: That’s an interesting point about “desire to believe.” If what starts the ball rolling towards saving faith is having a “desire to believe,” then the next question presented is, where does that desire come from?

    To avoid sliding into predestinarianism, if salvation is available to all, we have to presume that the “desire to believe” is inborn in all human beings — and if it’s found lacking later in life, it’s because a person has actively destroyed it, by failing to obey the promptings of his inherent moral sense.

    I can follow an argument to the effect that a person, as a matter of morality, ought to desire to believe that there is a God in heaven who will ultimately set right all the injustice and cruelty of the natural world that we, even after all we can do, are incapable of righting. To believe this is to hope; not to believe this is to despair to some extent, and hope is morally superior to despair.

    Where things get hazy, is in going from a desire to believe in a generalized just and merciful God, to a specific desire to believe in the particular Mormon message. I can even understand a desire to believe that God is a God of revelation — but it doesn’t follow even from this, that a person ought to desire to believe that Mormonism, as it has developed and is now constituted, is the true church. Why would it be moral to desire to believe that this particular package, with its unique mix of greatness and perfection, is true, whereas it would be immoral to desire to believe that God, if He were to restore His one true church, could have set it up with a few fewer stumbling-blocks and human imperfections? Why should a person want to believe in the Great Apostasy, rather than desiring to believe that God nursed an admittedly imperfect universal (i.e. “catholic”) church through rough spots, but ultimately kept the core of the Faith intact?

    Why should a person desire to believe in this sect, and not another?

  40. Thomas
    August 31, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Andrew @34:

    Well, that’s the thing. The church encourages people to stick with it even if people don’t have positive experiences. Because they can always say, “Well, you must endure to the end! You won’t have a sign until *after* the trial of your faith.” In other words, there is no way out. As a result, I think a lot of people are absolutely miserable in the church, but they stay because they have been led to believe they have to endure to the end. I do not think this is positive or enlightening.

    My question is this: if someone has a boiled seed, then should they continue to nourish it, even though it is dead? When should they “give up” on the seed?

    http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~ebarnes/python/dead-parrot.htm

  41. Thomas
    August 31, 2010 at 11:53 am

    ST @#35:

    I’m only saying that if anybody wants any kind of miracle in life, they have to get off their behind and work for it and stay consistent. And all things, including beliefs are miracles. And we can only decide we want to have them and work for them on our part.

    No argument here. The only quibble is with the notion that the kind of work that is required to leverage desire to believe into belief, is different from what is required to raise fully-formed belief to the next level. The latter does require faithful, active Church membership; the former, something else.

  42. August 31, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Andrew, your lack of comprehension comes from lack of ability to comprehend because of lack of consistency in obedience which leads to knowing and comprehending.

    Hear that Andrew? Your wickedness has made you stupid. You need to start obeying.

    I can follow an argument to the effect that a person, as a matter of morality, ought to desire to believe that there is a God in heaven who will ultimately set right all the injustice and cruelty of the natural world that we, even after all we can do, are incapable of righting. To believe this is to hope; not to believe this is to despair to some extent, and hope is morally superior to despair.

    I don’t quite follow that. For example, one might say that I ought to believe that God will soon renew the Earth and make right all the pollution, thereby making it not as important to care about the environment. Maybe I ought to believe that homosexuals will get fixed in the afterlife and therefore ought to expect them to sacrifice themselves in a life of self-loathing and celibacy. Maybe I ought to relish in the idea that the people who wronged me will get theirs in the afterlife. Now I realize that these examples I give are one-sided. I know there are positive things that can come from believing in God, but everybody has a different idea of what God’s system of ethics are, and they’re not always by definition preferable to an atheist’s.

  43. Hebron
    August 31, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    My thoughts for you are somewhat simple. Forget church, forget the culture and remember what Mormonism is supposed to be based on, the rock of Christ.
    If you do not have a personal relationship with Him I believe all of the points of doctrine in the world are useless to try to rationalize. I offer you this advice based on my experience. I was not a Mormon 12 years ago I came to be one through an answer to prayer.

    Forget the pretense of everything else and ponder Moroni 10:4

    4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

    I prayed for the truth of these things with resolute desire to know and in turn promised God that if he answered me I would follow His answer. There is one thing God requires of us to be His disciple and it is the only thing we truly have to offer; our own will. I promised I would oppose or seek after whatever answer God gave me.

    I can tell you that God talks to me, even though sometimes what He tells me is hard to hear. He answered my prayer with power and it changed me forever.
    This is my fix for someone who is struggling with “religion”. Ditch the religion and let God reveal Himself to you.

  44. August 31, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    re 35:

    SkepticTheist,

    cool story bro

    Instead I’m going to be a Muslim.

    re 36 & 37:

    Jen, at some level though, couples *can* adopt. they need not view that as an inferior option.

    And some times, yes, the “hardware” that people have makes it physically impossible (or even physically harmful) to become pregnant. It’s not like people need go about it in the dark as to their bodies’ capacities for this.

    Unfortunately, we have no reliable way in religion to check the quality of the seeds, the eggs, the uterus, etc.,

    Maybe you need to just accept where you are and change your focus. Accept your seed is boiled and let it go. Accept that you have done everything you can to comprehend and it hasn’t come to you.

    Jen, I don’t think you fully understand the implications of this. This isn’t “my” seed. The seed is *the* Word. If I accept the seed is boiled, then that is saying the Word is boiled. In other words, I have to wholly dismiss the scriptures, your religion, your faith, etc.,

    Many people are comfortable doing this exactly. My entire point is that for your sake, for SkepticTheist’s sake, for all of these people’s sakes, I do not necessarily want to do this.

    As for my life, I already — for the most part — change my focus. I’m not beating myself up here (as I would have in the past). But of course, someone like SkepticTheist would say that’s exactly the problem.

    Also, maybe you’re right, but Disney World is pretty cool.

    re 38:

    Enna, I just want to know why people are different, I guess. Understanding that we are is one way…but having no explanation for why is another.

    will get to the other comments later

  45. Thomas
    August 31, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    #42, Carson, read more carefully:

    a person, as a matter of morality, ought to desire to believe that there is a God in heaven who will ultimately set right all the injustice and cruelty of the natural world that we, even after all we can do, are incapable of righting.

    I understand that the liberal project consists of undertaken “to build a Kingdom right here on earth,” as a significant someone associated with the movement once said. But that’s just silly. No matter how many low-hanging social-justice fruits you manage to pluck, there’s still going to be absolute boatloads of crap raining down on undeserving heads.

    The stereotype of people of faith just sitting back and waiting for Jeebus to come down and fix things up, exists only in the minds of snarky juicebox-sipping New York journo-kids who never did a worthwhile thing in their pathetic sheltered lives. The American understanding of God has traditionally been shaped by the experience and thinking of New England Puritans (whose mentality, I sometimes think, Mormons basically preserved in amber right down to the present day). You trust in Him, but you keep your powder dry. He’s not going to get those rocks out of the fields for you, or get the irrigation water to the end of the row. Or, for that matter, loose a terrible swift can of whoopass on the Army of Northern Virginia and free the slaves, or end Jim Crow, or contribute to charity (including non-religious charity) more than the folks who supposedly are more motivated because they recognize that only they can be the change they seek, or what have you. Objectively, the notion that faith diminishes believers’ motivation to deal effectively with here-and-now concerns, just isn’t supported by the data.

    Maybe I ought to relish in the idea that the people who wronged me will get theirs in the afterlife.

    Well, why shouldn’t you? I read about some of the more horrendous things people do to each other, and it truly seems unfair that at most, you can only hang them once. My sense of justice is such that it’s almost as important for me to hope there’s a hell (or at least some kind of purgatory) as it is for me to hope for heaven.

    but everybody has a different idea of what God’s system of ethics are

    And some of those ideas are closer to the objective truth than others. So we do our best to understand, keeping in mind that since we’re inevitably going to be wrong on some or other of the details, a high degree of tolerance is called for.

    The hope I have in mind is not a sectarian hope. It’s nothing more or less a hope that there is something that transcends the limitations of the human condition. When you desire to believe in a just God, that doesn’t necessarily endorse any “system of ethics” other than the basic notions of justice and mercy. Those general principles are so tied up with the very concept of “morality,” that to suggest that there could exist a “system of ethics” which expressly declared that injustice and cruelty were per se moral, renders the whole discussion irrelevant.

    Even the atheist, whether he admits it or not, when he speaks of “morality,” is automatically confessing a belief in something transcendent. Because if man is truly the measure of all things, and if all men are equal, then there is nothing that says that one man’s preference for rape is inherently better than another man’s preference for love. You can argue that the latter is better for “society,” or the human species, but then you’re faced with the question of why those things are moral goods, whose interest ought to be advanced. At some point, even the atheist, if he wants to avoid nihilism, just has to throw up his hands and say “it’s turtles all the way down.”

    Anyway, my point was that I do believe that a bare-minimum belief in a Restorer of justice and mercy, is morally superior to a denial of the possibility of such. Doing the latter means that you admit that the world’s injustice and cruelty — floods of which have already gone under the bridge, and so are beyond any mortal’s ability to rectify — will prevail, at least in part. You really have no evidence that this is so, any more than the believer has evidence of his God. Since I believe that hope — even faint hope, when it is not completely eliminated, such that hope becomes a dishonest refusal to accept facts — is a morally superior position to unnecessary despair, therefore I can understand why having a desire to believe in transcendence is an inherently moral desire.

  46. August 31, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    re 39:

    Thomas,

    To avoid sliding into predestinarianism

    maybe we should stop avoiding such?

    if it’s found lacking later in life, it’s because a person has actively destroyed it, by failing to obey the promptings of his inherent moral sense.

    I don’t think that a person can “actively destroy” something that is *inherent*.

    To believe this is to hope; not to believe this is to despair to some extent, and hope is morally superior to despair. Where things get hazy, is in going from a desire to believe in a generalized just and merciful God, to a specific desire to believe in the particular Mormon message

    I guess the problem here is I think people are overestimating their capacity to choose an emotional state like “hope” or “believe” or “despair.” If you think we can just choose hope over despair (or even to set up this dichotomy…you assume that not to believe this is “despair” when it could be a few other alternatives…like apathy), then you run into the problem of trying to explain why you feel it is “hazy” to HOPE for the particular Mormon message.

    If it is tough to hope for the particular Mormon message, couldn’t it be theoretically tough to hope for the generalized just and merciful God?

    LOL @ link in 40.

    re 42:

    Carson, I know, right (to the first part). I obviously was doin’ it rong.

    As for the second part, I think Thomas is saying something similar to you. He’s saying that some *generalized* idea is preferable, but that this doesn’t justify any particular.

    The gist is this: are there some “injustices” that are beyond humankind’s capacity to fix and/or prevent? If so, then wouldn’t it be better to hope for someone/something that can correct these injustices?

  47. August 31, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    re 43:

    Hebron,

    that’s the thing: however much you say God talks to you, to others, there is only silence.

    re 45:

    Thomas,

    At some point, even the atheist, if he wants to avoid nihilism, just has to throw up his hands and say “it’s turtles all the way down.”

    I don’t know why people always forget that nihilism has a second side — existentialism, or maybe even absurdism. The other side is not “the transcendent.”

    Anyway, my point was that I do believe that a bare-minimum belief in a Restorer of justice and mercy, is morally superior to a denial of the possibility of such.

    This seems like a false dichotomy. You are matching a bare-minimum belief in the actuality of a Restorer of justice and mercy with a denial of the possibility of such.

  48. Jen
    August 31, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Andrew S-

    “My question is this: if someone has a boiled seed, then should they continue to nourish it, even though it is dead? When should they “give up” on the seed?”

    “Jen, I don’t think you fully understand the implications of this. This isn’t “my” seed. The seed is *the* Word. If I accept the seed is boiled, then that is saying the Word is boiled. In other words, I have to wholly dismiss the scriptures, your religion, your faith, etc.,”

    I was responding to the first statement you made above. These two comments you have made about a “boiled seed” don’t seem to be saying the same thing……am I wrong?

  49. Enna
    August 31, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Re 44 “I just want to know why people are different, I guess. Understanding that we are is one way…but having no explanation for why is another.”

    Well, this is kind of a universal question, isn’t it? Why shouldn’t the different experiences people have with religion/God stem from the same thing that all their other differences come from? Genetics, environment, family, experience. So it’s not so cut and dry as why we have different hair colors, but is it that different from why people have different ethics? Or why people express love in different ways? Or handle grief? All the intangibles that make us human (in my mind) come from the same factors that make us tangible living creatures. Including a belief or lack thereof of religion…

  50. August 31, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    The gist is this: are there some “injustices” that are beyond humankind’s capacity to fix and/or prevent? If so, then wouldn’t it be better to hope for someone/something that can correct these injustices?

    That’s an interesting question, and I would say no it is not. I would phrase it differently, at least. I would say that it’s good to recognize injustices as injustices, and to desire that they be corrected or prevented, but whether or not you actually hope for something over which you have absolutely no control says nothing about how good you are. The hope or lack thereof for things outside of your influence isn’t necessarily going to be any good to anyone. If you earnestly hope for the punishment of people who have wronged you, then I would suggest a little bit of Christianity’s teachings on forgiveness. I honestly believe that Christ’s teachings about forgiveness are healthy for humans.

    Side note for clarification: when I say ‘good’, it is not a declaration of objective goodness, as theists never fail to perceive it that way, thinking they’ve found an inconsistency. Rather, it is my own subjective view of ‘good’ which would more properly be interpreted as my opinion on what would be ‘in the interests of all’ or something like that. You use your semantics, and I’ll use mine, but let us be aware of the differences.

  51. Jeff Spector
    August 31, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    When it comes to religion, logic and intellect usually do not work because the whole thing speaks to illogic based on how we are taught to think. A big guy in the sky, making everything, letting things happens, but being in control of everything He wants to be. Being everywhere but not being anywhere we can get to, shipping us down to this place on the oft change we might ended up in His particular church, passing judgment on everything we do and at some point, pointing it out to us as we are assigned a place in eternity.

    On the surface, it doesn’t make much sense, but the other potential explanations don’t really make much sense either. Evolution, randomness, etc. that is, if you just use your intellect.

    But, we cannot escape the feelings we have when this is presented to us in a reasonable way. Sure, we can talk our way out of it, like jumping out of an airplane even though we are scared to death to do it. But it doesn’t change the fact that the Spirit spoke truth to us and we acted upon it….. or didn’t.

  52. Thomas
    August 31, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    If you earnestly hope for the punishment of people who have wronged you, then I would suggest a little bit of Christianity’s teachings on forgiveness. I honestly believe that Christ’s teachings about forgiveness are healthy for humans.

    I would suggest a little closer reading of Christianity’s teachings on forgiveness: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Or, for the full context: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” (Romans 12:19-20.)

    The Christian teaching is not so much “hey, don’t worry about evil, and don’t be judgmental,” as it is “leave judgment to me, and trust I’ll do it right.”

    I would add that yes, Christ does command that I forgive people who have wronged me. It does not mean that I have to pretend that a wrong has not been done.

    Rather, it is my own subjective view of ‘good’ which would more properly be interpreted as my opinion on what would be ‘in the interests of all’ or something like that.

    In other words, rape is worse than love in the same way Le Corbusier is worse than Louis Sullivan, or Kanye than Pearl Jam. It’s a purely aesthetic thing.

    I’m very familiar with the non-theist’s argument that he just likes being good. Problem is, I don’t believe it. People don’t always like being good, or decent to others, or truthful, or courageous, or any of the other adjectives atheists say they believe in as a purely subjective matter. There’s always a point, in my experience, where the immediate personal benefit from conveniently revising your subjectively-chosen personal code outweighs whatever aesthetic pleasure you got from thinking of yourself as decent, truthful, or brave. The noble atheists, at that point, draw on something they refuse to acknowledge — that it is not just something subjective to them, but rather something universal and absolute, that they are impelled to be faithful to.

  53. Thomas
    August 31, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    #47: “

    Anyway, my point was that I do believe that a bare-minimum belief in a Restorer of justice and mercy, is morally superior to a denial of the possibility of such.

    This seems like a false dichotomy. You are matching a bare-minimum belief in the actuality of a Restorer of justice and mercy with a denial of the possibility of such.”

    Good catch. Meant to match “bare-minimum desire to believe in the actuality of a Restorer of justice and mercy with a denial of the possibility of such.”

  54. August 31, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    The noble atheists, at that point, draw on something they refuse to acknowledge — that it is not just something subjective to them, but rather something universal and absolute, that they are impelled to be faithful to.

    Universal and absolute, eh? Yeah, it’s funny how people pick up the morals of the society and age they grew up in, and then turn around and declare them to be universal and absolute laws. Oh wait, let me guess, we’re progressing more and more towards the absolute objective moral standard of God?

  55. Thomas
    August 31, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    That’s an interesting question, and I would say no it is not. I would phrase it differently, at least. I would say that it’s good to recognize injustices as injustices, and to desire that they be corrected or prevented, but whether or not you actually hope for something over which you have absolutely no control says nothing about how good you are. The hope or lack thereof for things outside of your influence isn’t necessarily going to be any good to anyone.

    Might it not be good for you? Who said, after all, that for something to be morally good, it has to work to the exclusive good of third parties, and not yourself?

    Despair, or acedia is one of the classical Seven Deadly Sins. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acedia) I think there’s good reason for this: Unhappy people tend to inflict their unhappiness on others.

    (Andrew S @46, compare your remark about “apathy.” I think apathy and despair are close enough cousins to class them, like the Catholic Catechism does, as more or less the same thing.)

  56. August 31, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    “Rape” is just such a nasty thing, isn’t it? Why don’t you go further, and just say “cold-blooded murder”? Or “holocaust”? “Inhuman flesh-eating torture”? Surely I as a non-theist have only two options: 1) I must take a completely ambivalent stance towards these things, weighing them as though I were deciding on which toothpaste to buy, or 2) I must acknowledge that God exists and human morals are absolute and objective.

    Woe is me. I am positively defeated.

  57. Thomas
    August 31, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Yeah, it’s funny how people pick up the morals of the society and age they grew up in, and then turn around and declare them to be universal and absolute laws.

    There’s far more commonality among the core morals of virtually all societies and ages than you obviously care to admit.

    Oh wait, let me guess, we’re progressing more and more towards the absolute objective moral standard of God?

    Isn’t that the whole reason political “progressives” use that term? Kind of an amped-up Whig theory of history?

    Why should we not expect to progress morally, with an ever-expanding library of moral reasoning and example handed down to us?

    I like a good sardonic laugh or helping of sarcasm as much as the next man, but “fools mock” is still a good general rule. You don’t turn to mockery (“oh wait, let me guess”) when you’ve got more logic-bullets in your magazine. Did I just hear the click of a pin on an empty chamber?

  58. August 31, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    re 48:

    Jen, the issue is that the seed IS the Word. The problem is that it may sprout for some, not for others. But the Word doesn’t change from person to person. I don’t have different scriptures than you.

    That’s where the bind comes. If I say, “my seed is boiled,” well, i have to realize that my seed is your seed, since we have the same scriptures.

    re 49:

    Enna, then is there any sense in which we are seeking truth? Or are we just stuck in our personalities, environments, cultures, and genetics?

    re 50:

    Carson, you don’t have to look for it from a “punishment” standpoint. you can look at it from the standpoint of “restoring what was lost” or “righting a wrong.”

    Also, I think what Thomas is saying is that “hope” is better for your well-being than lack thereof. If morality is about maximizing well-being, then that would make it moral.

    re 51:

    Jeff,

    But, we cannot escape the feelings we have when this is presented to us in a reasonable way. Sure, we can talk our way out of it, like jumping out of an airplane even though we are scared to death to do it. But it doesn’t change the fact that the Spirit spoke truth to us and we acted upon it….. or didn’t.

    My entire point is that some people don’t have to “talk their way out of it” because they don’t have any feelings from which to escape.

    Now, you might say, “well then, it wasn’t presented to you in a reasonable way.” But this kinda defeats what you were just saying. You are saying religion is illogical…so how can that be presented in a reasonable way?

    At this point I might as well be Muslim as Mormon (or Catholic or JW or Scientologist) because “the spirit” speaks the same truth about each to me.

    re 53:

    Thomas,

    Good catch. Meant to match “bare-minimum desire to believe in the actuality of a Restorer of justice and mercy with a denial of the possibility of such.”

    That’s not really the point I had a problem with, and your correction seems even more distasteful (once again, you haven’t established that you can just *choose* to desire something). My problem was that you mismatch “actuality” with “possibility.” IMO, most people do not deny the possibility of a Restore of justice and mercy. They just can’t accept the actuality (or desire to accept such).

  59. August 31, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Andrew, is hope supposed to be better for our well-being because it’s comforting to us?

    I’m reminded of a comment you made in the past:

    No, my hope is not in trying to rise above naturalism. First of all, hope is a bad faith. Hope is a letting down and a giving up. When we “hope,” we sabotage ourselves. Instead, we should act. Instead, we must will.

    If I’ve taken that completely out of proper context, please feel free to heap ridicule on me. ;-)

    Did I just hear the click of a pin on an empty chamber?

    Haha, did I just hear you call me a fool? Don’t be mad that I guessed correctly.

  60. August 31, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    re 59:

    yes, I think that’s what Thomas is saying. No, I don’t think you took that quotation out of context.

    Please note that I don’t agree with Thomas here. But I could predict his response. “This hope isn’t saying that we shouldn’t do all that we can. It’s recognizing that there are some things that we cannot do. In this way, hope is the only ALTERNATIVE to letting down and giving up.”

  61. Hebron
    September 1, 2010 at 12:33 am

    Andrew
    I am curious if you have ever done what I have suggested. I am going to try to rephrase myself.

    Go to God telling him that if he will talk to you that you will give all of yourself to him. This is different than simply asking in the night, “God are you up there?” Ask God with desire and resolve but the offering of yourself is key. If you have offered yourself up in this way and received nothing then I will gladly retreat to my corner to ponder. If you have not done this, what have you got to lose?

  62. September 1, 2010 at 6:15 am

    re 61:

    Hebron, yes. I have. Several times. The experience of getting nothing back wasn’t it exactly great for my emotional health, either.

  63. Enna
    September 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    “is there any sense in which we are seeking truth?”

    Well, this is where I get a little heretical… I’m not sure that I’m entirely on board with an objective truth, and instead thing that people absolutely should seek their own subjective truths. Just like being exposed to different cultures can change your racial bias, being exposed to different religions can change your assurance in the One True Church.

    I don’t think we are prisoners to our genetics, environment, and experience. They are simply the framework that we exist it. As we change them that framework shifts and so do we.

    To me the goal is to constantly seek the things that feel the most true to me. Some people find the most truth in the Mormon church and believe it must be true for all. I find some truth here, but believe that that is more personal than universal. But because we all relate to different ideas of what is true, we all end up with very very different religious (or lack of religious) beliefs. Just like we end up with different ideas about what kind of music is best, or what style of hair is better. We seek the things that feel the most right to us, and (I think) experience dissonance (or what the church calls guilt from sin) when we are doing things contrary to our own truth.

    BTW, thanks for letting me jump in the conversation Andrew! I really enjoyed the post.

  64. Thomas
    September 1, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Andrew S. — I probably should repeat, in case you hadn’t seen it in some earlier post, that my experience with the Moroni 10:4/Alma 32 process sounds a lot like yours. I spent literally decades trying to get the kind of confirmation people speak of, and never did.

    Was it because (as SkepticTheist suggested to you) I was too unfaithful or disobedient to obtain a witness? Here is where the exmo playbook says I’m supposed to recite that I was a Mormon of the Mormons. Instead, I’ll use someone else’s language: “I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature.” Could I have been more orthoprax? Probably, but it’s fair to say that as far as Gospel observance went, I am/was “better than most, not as good as some.” People far more casual about Gospel living than I have been (i.e., most of my contemporaries growing up, as far as I can tell) seem to have had no trouble at all getting Moroni Tenfoured.

    “The experience of getting nothing back wasn’t it exactly great for my emotional health, either.”

    No kidding. Then it occured to me that maybe I was barking up a wrong tree. Even as I continued to “get nothing back” in response to pleas for a witness of the truth of one comprehensive sectarian doctrine, I found that my faith in a God more generally defined was growing. To use a poor analogy, it occurred to me that rather than trying to understand string theory right off the bat, I should focus on understanding regular E&M physics. The emotional-health flak got a lot thinner at that point, and I love the smaller, but I think more focused, faith that’s been granted to me.

    (I originally thought to analogize to starting with algebra before tackling calculus — but that would imply that I thought that the kind of sectarian Mormonism whose comprehensive truth I couldn’t get a witness of, is the ultimate truth. And I don’t know if it is. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, just like string theory may or may not resemble how the universe actually operates. I don’t know — and for the moment, I’m comfortable not knowing.)

    You ask whether we can choose our desires. Good question. There’s no accounting for taste. Maybe I could never in a million years force myself to desire zucchini, or Brutalist architecture, or John Cage music.

    On the other hand, maybe there are some things that are objectively desirable, but are to some people acquired tastes, like avocados (I used to hate them), or (I’m told) single-malt Scotch, or self-sacrificing service. (Still working on liking that one, based on reports from some people that they came to really like it.)

    I am interested to understand why a person would find himself not desiring to believe that the enduring evil of the world may get set right. I can understand an agnostic deciding that the whole question is too far removed from anything that can affect him or that he can affect to bother with, although I’d disagree with that conclusion. What I can’t quite understand, is why a rational person would actively want God not to be true. Even the one remotely plausible basis for such a desire — the Promethean impulse to be completely free of any restraint on the will — ultimately fails if you look closely enough at it: If you hypothesize God’s will not as something arbitrary, but rather as being consistent (as Mormonism hypothesizes) with the truest, and only enduring, parts of your own eternal personality, then it’s not a matter of you submitting to a dominating outside authority, but rather of your seeing clearly what you ultimately will yourself. (Reminds me of Rousseau’s notion of the “general will,” which sometimes differs from the popular consensus because of various group dynamics and human frailties.)

    Carl Sagan — not a traditional believer by any stretch of the imagination — used a scripture passage to great effect in one of the last episodes of his “Cosmos” series: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” Why not?

  65. September 1, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    re 63:

    Enna, maybe I’ve just been in too many philosophical smackdowns, but truth relativism doesn’t really work out well. I mean, I try to emphasize the nature of subjectivity as well; I’m just saying certain people will jump all over it.

    re 64:

    Thomas, sounds like a familiar conversation from before indeed.

    Yet…

    Then it occured to me that maybe I was barking up a wrong tree. Even as I continued to “get nothing back” in response to pleas for a witness of the truth of one comprehensive sectarian doctrine, I found that my faith in a God more generally defined was growing. To use a poor analogy, it occurred to me that rather than trying to understand string theory right off the bat, I should focus on understanding regular E&M physics. The emotional-health flak got a lot thinner at that point, and I love the smaller, but I think more focused, faith that’s been granted to me.

    that is not what I find happening. What does “God more generally defined” even mean? It seems like something that cannot be grasped for a completely different reason — because it has no substance. To continue with the physics analogy, physics in *any* sense is completely Greek to me. This actually goes well to math as well, I guess. Math itself often seems arbitrary, with no real way to climb on board (people I know double take at this…”math? Arbitrary?”) but I agree that the implications of using a comparison like math are not palatable.

    You ask whether we can choose our desires. Good question. There’s no accounting for taste. Maybe I could never in a million years force myself to desire zucchini, or Brutalist architecture, or John Cage music.

    On the other hand, maybe there are some things that are objectively desirable, but are to some people acquired tastes, like avocados (I used to hate them), or (I’m told) single-malt Scotch, or self-sacrificing service. (Still working on liking that one, based on reports from some people that they came to really like it.)

    One thing that’s important to realize is that even with “acquired tastes,” you never consciously choose to change the desire. Rather, you’re gambling with your tastebuds, gambling with your neurology, etc., You hope that one day, you “strike it big” and something will change. But you can’t decide when that will be or even if. You just hope the odds aren’t too stacked against you.

    I am interested to understand why a person would find himself not desiring to believe that the enduring evil of the world may get set right.

    This could go for really anything. “I am interested to understand why a person would find himself not desiring to believe in the specific Mormon version of god.” “I am interested to understand why a person would find himself not desiring to 1) find an eternal companion of the opposite sex or 2) be changed in the eternity to desire such a companion.”

    It’s not something that I think we can really pinpoint and say, “aha, here is why.” And I think that the answers we try to come up with can be “just so” stories.

    I can understand an agnostic deciding that the whole question is too far removed from anything that can affect him or that he can affect to bother with, although I’d disagree with that conclusion.

    I think this is more the apatheistic position, really, not really the agnostic position. As such, I believe it can fit agnostics, atheists, theists, etc,. all of them, despite their beliefs. You’ve already posted what you think about apathy though ;)

    (Also, if you’d disagree with that conclusion…doesn’t that actually say nothing except for, “I am a different person with different desires”?)

    What I can’t quite understand, is why a rational person would actively want God not to be true.

    Another false dichotomy. No one said anything about wanting God not to be true — just not wanting God to be true. The former is an active want or desire. The latter is a passive lack of want or desire.

    Also, I think one problem is the idea of a “rational person.”

    Why not?

    As with everything else discussed (e.g., the central point of the post): it is not compelling. It doesn’t stir anything within. It doesn’t really register. Just words on a page.

  66. September 1, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    “(I originally thought to analogize to starting with algebra before tackling calculus — but that would imply that I thought that the kind of sectarian Mormonism whose comprehensive truth I couldn’t get a witness of, is the ultimate truth. And I don’t know if it is.”

    My math teacher once told me as a senior in high school, “Algebra is harder than calculus. You’ve only been exposed to one algebra.”

    I now retire for the evening leaving you to ponder whether that truly has philosophical significance to this discussion or if I’m just messing with your heads. :D

  67. September 2, 2010 at 12:00 am

    re 66:

    You’ve hinted about the xx number of algebras before. My brain is still collapsed from hearing about it…

  68. djinn
    September 2, 2010 at 12:25 am

    A previous commenter stated: “I am interested to understand why a person would find himself not desiring to believe that the enduring evil of the world may get set right.”

    The answer is simple. It is not that a person doesn’t “desire” that everybody gets a happy ending, but it takes more than desire to make something true.

  69. September 2, 2010 at 7:04 am

    re 68:

    djinn, but all Thomas needs is the desire. If you concede that you have the desire, you concede the argument.

  70. September 2, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Andrew, I think djinn means is that there is a difference between desiring that something is true and desiring to believe that something is true. I wish I had a million dollars in the bank, but I don’t wish to simply believe that I have a million dollars in the bank. As much comfort as that would give me, it would be unfounded and would lead to greater disappointment than just acknowledging that I don’t have a million dollars in the bank from the very beginning.

  71. Thomas
    September 2, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    “This could go for really anything. “I am interested to understand why a person would find himself not desiring to believe in the specific Mormon version of god.” “I am interested to understand why a person would find himself not desiring to 1) find an eternal companion of the opposite sex or 2) be changed in the eternity to desire such a companion.””

    Why could it go for anything? It’s a lot easier for me to understand why a person ought to want to desire that Good Wins, than to get down into the weeds and want to believe “Good Wins, and this and this and this is how.” I’m still trying to get someone to explain to me why someone would want to believe Mormonism is the best God could manage in a One True Church.

  72. Thomas
    September 2, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    #70 — The difference is, that you can verify that you don’t have a million dollars in the bank. (If you did, the bank probably went bust last year anyway, and you’re only FDIC insured up to $200,000.) You know the belief is unfounded.

    With God, you can’t conclusively determine that the belief is unfounded. Borrowing from Pascal’s wager, you’re not likely to be disappointed if you hoped wrong — you’ll be safely dead, and beyond disappointment.

    Thus, if the only downside to a false hope is eventual disappointment, faith in a God who’s hypothesized to exist outside the reach of ordinary observation, is proof against it. What other downside is there?

    I do think, as some anti-religious writers have lately argued, that you can make something like a convincing argument against the existence of a particular kind of God, like the hyper-interventionist God of the fundamentalists.

  73. Thomas
    September 2, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    #66 — I’m referring, of course, to the two kinds of algebra I squeaked through in high school. If there are more, I hereby resolve not to think about them. If it’s good enough for ostriches, it’s good enough for me.

  74. Thomas
    September 2, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    #65: “…doesn’t that actually say nothing except for, ‘I am a different person with different desires’?”

    All I can say is basically what people kept telling me about avocados: “Come and see.” One day I did, and they weren’t as bad as they look. (The tableside guacamole at El Torito was what did it — lots of lime juice and cilantro.)

    You indicate that you already did “come and see” — that you gave faith a fair shake — and faith was still pretty much all zucchini. Not my business to question the sufficiency of your trial period, any more than it’s anyone’s business to question mine on other questions. OK, then. It sounds Oprah-y to say “follow your passion,” but if there’s something you love — and if you’re a good person, that thing is likely something with some objective good about it — then run with it. If it somehow leads you to formal theism, fine; if it leads you simply to recognize something good, true, or beautiful for what it is, and respond correspondingly, then that’s also good. And if the Thirteenth Article of Faith gets it right, it’s also a form of worship.

  75. September 2, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    #72 — I can actually agree with that to a certain extent. Some things that you could believe will happen in an afterlife might provide some level of comfort without the risk of disappointment if there turns out to be no afterlife. So you might be able to make a case that some of those things are a psychological net benefit. I just think that some of these things actually may not have a net benefit, for example if you make yourself miserable by following something you believe to be God’s will because you believe God will reward you for it in the afterlife.

    I also think that the more interventionist you believe God is, the more evidence will come into play to prove or disprove your belief. In my case, Mormonism taught be from an infant that God is quite interventionist. Just about every story I heard from the pulpit and from my parents prepared me to expect a lot of intervention from God or at least the Holy Ghost. The scriptures are filled with promises about what God will do if you are faithful and righteous, and not just in the next life. As I grew up I faithfully paid close attention to all the good things that happened as a result of prayer and righteousness, attributing those things to God, and properly interpreting all the negative things as trials or tribulations that God will help me get through. When I was much older, I saw a wider view of the world, full of questions and completely opposing yet plausible interpretations of events. I couldn’t help but notice how my confirmation bias was what underscored my entire worldview. Much of this came about because I noticed that God didn’t really help me at all with a few key things in my life at the time. I was completely left alone, and ended up making the wrong decision despite prayer, fasting, pondering, etc. I knew what I was supposed to think: that God works in mysterious ways that I can’t comprehend but will in the future. But that is just not good enough. How can that be good enough? I needed to know for certain, so I prayed and searched earnestly for an answer. Is the church true? Are you even there, God? Utter disappointment to get no answer. I couldn’t bear the thought that God wasn’t real. The evidence didn’t hold up in my case.

  76. Thomas
    September 2, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    “I just think that some of these things actually may not have a net benefit, for example if you make yourself miserable by following something you believe to be God’s will because you believe God will reward you for it in the afterlife.”

    True. Which is why I’ve never like the counsel from true believers to people like Andrew S., who keep beating their heads against a wall and never get Moroni Tenfoured, that they should just Keep Buggering On and act as if they believed. That is a recipe for misery. The Mormon lifestyle — that is, apart from the common-sense commandments that basically say “don’t screw up your life” — is hard. With real, confirmed faith that the sacrifices — impoverishing yourself with tithing, losing time with your family to Church work, grinding out three hours or more of Sunday church, hauling yourself out of bed at five in the morning to get to early-morning seminary, serving a mission, or walking across the plains and burying your kids on the way — are worth it, the hardships can be seen as blessings. Without that assurance, they’re more or less just drudgery or worse.

    On the one hand, faith precedes the miracle; on the other hand, there needs to be some basis for believing your faith is not in vain. I can understand how God could expect you to give things that look miserable a fair try, upon which you discover they don’t make you miserable after all. I can’t countenance the people who say just to keep going through the motions, whether you believe or not. God doesn’t want people to be miserable. If a fair “experiment on the word” doesn’t cause you to experience sacrifice as a net happiness generator, then maybe it’s better to focus on something else.

  77. Thomas
    September 2, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    #75, again: “Much of this came about because I noticed that God didn’t really help me at all with a few key things in my life at the time. I was completely left alone, and ended up making the wrong decision despite prayer, fasting, pondering, etc.”

    Hear, hear. Exhibit A is what happened once after I paid the proverbial tithing I couldn’t afford before the other expenses coming due. Suffice to say, the rain of mud on my head is not a story you’d likely see in the Ensign. It had everything but the boils and plague of frogs.

    That’s why I lean more in the “But if not” or “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” direction, than in the God-as-vending-machine direction. More consistent with actual experience.

  78. September 2, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    re 70:

    wow, I’m trying to consider the difference between “desiring x is true” and “desiring the belief in x,” given that beliefs are psychological statements, “x is true.’

    re 71:

    Thomas, it’s because this is all situated from your current vantage point. When you say, “it’s a lot easier for me to understand…” well…what’s “a lot easier for you to understand” may represent your personality, your biases, etc., It could be “a lot easier for [someone else] to understand” something completely different. In it, you have this emotional component (yours is something like “hope in “good wins” is better than despair in the impossibility”), but this emotional component isn’t rationally justified (no matter how much you have rationalized it as such. So, I’m just pointing out how other people could easily have different emotional premises, and therefore rationalize different conclusions out of them.

    To say, “I’m trying to get someone to explain why someone would want to believe the Mormon system…” ignores the possibility that perhaps, it requires an emotional component. Someone would “want to believe” not because of some “Here is x, and here is y, and here is z,” but because of some ir/nonrational emotional thing. Which, as far as I can tell, “desires” and “beliefs” are really about.

    re 74:

    While I think this is kinda how things are, I still can’t help but feel like religion/philosophy shouldn’t be like food preference.

  79. Hebron
    September 3, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Ok Andrew S this round the advice hat is off, I am in my corner as promised.

    Reading through some of the recent posts I can sympathize with what you and others have experienced. Even though God talks to me all the time there have been times, particularly this year when times have been tough, where I couldn’t get an answer for anything. It was like praying to dead silence. I know what that is like and I know how frustrating it is. I tried humbling myself, pleading, yelling, anything to get an answer because if I have ever needed an answer it has been lately.

    On the other side of things though, having God talk to you can be just as unsettling. You do not get to pick the topic or what kind of information you receive. God has shown me things that are scary and uncomfortable. I have seen visions while reading the scriptures. I have seen visions of war and destruction coming to this land in my lifetime. I have seen visions of being imprisoned and my family kept away from me. I have also been shown wonderful things.

    Sounds sketchy right? After all what did I do to have these things come to me? I am no one special, anything I have received has nothing to do with how holy I am. I am just a regular guy with plenty of weaknesses that I struggle against often unsuccessfully.

    This leaves a person who tries to be rational wondering a lot of things, like am I crazy? Am I just being misled? And to anyone who hasn’t had this happen to them it would be easy to say of course you are. Well I don’t have any actions planned or try to get anyone to join my cause I just contemplate and believe that if the things I have seen are true only God could carry them out so I wait to see if they happen.

    All of this information though can be equally as frustrating as getting no answers at all. Just thought it might bring a broader scope to the discussion giving you a narrow window from the other side.

  80. hebron
    September 3, 2010 at 1:48 am

    re 72-76

    This is one of those topics that one can read about in the scriptures and it only connects on a fantasy level. Reading about Job or Jeremiah in the cistern or Joseph being sold into slavery are easy to read sitting in a comfy chair after a nice dinner. You think geez those guys took a beating and then you or I go to bed and think about football or something.

    Sooner or later a bag of crap lands on everyone’s front porch and it is personal and it hurts. I think the tithing notion that is taught is portrayed as if you pay your tithing and you are pretty much bullet proof from financial disaster. I am not so sure it works that way. I think sometimes everyone gets to sit in the cistern, big or small, and the blessings associated with promises are not guaranteed to come according to our liking.

    I have watched the business I built and poured my blood and guts into over the last decade evaporate before my eyes. Lay all of my employees off and walk away with not much but some debt to show for it. I paid tithing and conducted my business honestly but all of the good principals I used were not enough to save it. Since this is about God answering prayers, the funny thing is that God told me that this would happen.

    So even with my prayers answered in the back of my mind I think of the Matrix, would Neo have knocked the flowerpot over if the Oracle hadn’t said he would?

    I guess at the bottom of it all I am as unclear as ever what the next few months will bring. I just keep getting up in the morning and trying. But I think of Joseph in prison and the other stories and sometimes it seems the trials can go on for years. You or I may just be getting started with our trials. Through inspiration or not I believe we must accept our lumps and not let bitterness take hold in our hearts.

    Why do some people pray and never get an answer? This one has me baffled. On a lighter note though, at least you don’t have to worry about God asking you to build an ark or sacrifice your son Issac.

  81. September 3, 2010 at 9:24 am

    re 79:

    Hebron, interesting viewpoint! But see, that’s why I really want to know more about it. Because I understand that, for believers, things that seem absolutely strange and novel to me actually seem to happen. I know that most people would be willing to say, “Well, you’re crazy,” but that dismissal just doesn’t seem appropriate to me. I guess the reason I dislike dismissing people’s experiences wholesale is because I hate when people do that to me.

    re 80:

    I have watched the business I built and poured my blood and guts into over the last decade evaporate before my eyes. Lay all of my employees off and walk away with not much but some debt to show for it. I paid tithing and conducted my business honestly but all of the good principals I used were not enough to save it. Since this is about God answering prayers, the funny thing is that God told me that this would happen.

    So even with my prayers answered in the back of my mind I think of the Matrix, would Neo have knocked the flowerpot over if the Oracle hadn’t said he would?

    What do you think you were SUPPOSED to do, then? Do you think you were jut supposed to “brace the impact” of having the business fail…or do you think there might have been a way, if you had done something else..?

    The second paragraph is really not all that comforting. What about free will?

  82. Hebron
    September 3, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Re 81
    “The second paragraph is really not all that comforting. What about free will?”
    I am by no means a fatalist. I am a full believer in free will but free will has its limitations. Just because I had a heads up that trouble was on the way I still tried to keep moving forward with my business. After all it was over a year from when I got this answer that it actually started to happen. It isn’t as if God said “on april 22 your business will fail”.

    So as far as my will is concerned I surmise that I can choose to deny reality if I want to but that doesn’t make reality falter. I don’t think it would have mattered what I had done as far as my business is concerned. However I do feel it matters greatly the choices I made regarding my integrity. As opportunities to do things such as not pay my vendor accounts or employees became a thought that stuck in my mind more than it should have, I didn’t give in to those thoughts. I would rather lose it all but my honor.

    About the second paragraph, I didn’t mean to sound pessimistic. After all Joseph, once out out of prison, was exalted in Egypt. I still believe now as well that God has greater things in store for me and I am hopeful for the future. It is taking all of my faith to believe that and what I believe God is teaching me now is that I depended to much on my own strength and need to trust in His. My point was that I believe God’s promises but we don’t get to set the timetable for the outcome of those blessings.

    “I think the tithing notion that is taught is portrayed as if you pay your tithing and you are pretty much bullet proof from financial disaster.” I don’t recall from Malachi that the blessings were necessarily going to be financial. Just that you would be blessed more than you could receive. I acknowledge the other great things in my life and over all I am happy.

  83. Thomas
    September 3, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    #78:

    Thomas, it’s because this is all situated from your current vantage point. When you say, “it’s a lot easier for me to understand…” well…what’s “a lot easier for you to understand” may represent your personality, your biases, etc., It could be “a lot easier for [someone else] to understand” something completely different. In it, you have this emotional component (yours is something like “hope in “good wins” is better than despair in the impossibility”), but this emotional component isn’t rationally justified (no matter how much you have rationalized it as such.) So, I’m just pointing out how other people could easily have different emotional premises, and therefore rationalize different conclusions out of them.

    Why not?

    I like to think I’ve made a pretty decent case for my preference for life over death being an objectively desirable one, at least for human beings like us. Where do you think the logic breaks down?

    Even with a masochist, it’s not so much that the guy prefers pain to pleasure — it’s that he derives one kind of pleasure from a kind of pain, where the pleasure ultimately outweighs the pain.

    You make a fair point about the emotional foundations of our first principles. That’s been the see-saw battle in philosophy ever since the Enlightenment — the degree to which we think the way we do because we reason our way to our opinions, versus their ultimately being determined by subjective emotional inclinations. I think it’s probably a mix of both. You can never be entirely free of your subjective biases, but by recognizing that, and them, you can at least rest part of your thinking on reason.

    I agree that I am probably drawn to faith — and a particular kind of faith — by some emotional traits that got fixed long before I was conscious of them. But I’ve also deeply questioned my faith, and tried to see if there were, in fact, rational grounds for doing what I was doing and believing what I believed. Maybe this is just rationalizing a pre-determined conclusion — but no, plenty of things have been discarded along the way as indefensible, including things that I would rather not have discarded.

    Short version, there is a huge aesthetic component to my faith — but I truly do not believe that’s all there is, or that this is not at all different from preferring raspberries to peaches.

  84. September 3, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    re 78:

    I don’t think you’ve established the idea of “objective desirability” yet. You haven’t said why “hope” is morally superior to “despair” (or even addressed the improper comparison here).

    also, I don’t know where life/death got into things, but I think quality of life can have an impact on whether one desires life. Hence, we have euthanasia (in the patient-determined sense).

    I guess you have to explain why you think everyone should be “probably drawn to faith” as well.

  85. September 3, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    haha, I meant to make my last comment addressed at 83, not at 78

  86. Thomas
    September 3, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    “You haven’t said why “hope” is morally superior to “despair” (or even addressed the improper comparison here).”

    Getting way back into the first-principles weeds here, to the point where the phrase “morally superior” starts to lose its whole meaning.

    When I refer to “life,” I’m presuming that life is generally speaking a good thing — as evidenced by the fact that it typically takes something that radically diminishes one’s quality of life, to make one of the very few people who choose to end their lives do so. And death is (again, generally) something that people had rather avoid — although, since it’s ultimately unavoidable, maybe the better phrase is that death is something, the experience of which we would prefer to minimize as a percentage of our overall experience. We’d rather spend as much time alive relative to dead as possible.

    I suppose, in the interest of radical skepticism, I could question whether it’s objectively better to be alive than dead. I’m not going to bother. If it’s a mere emotional preference, it’s close enough to a universal one that it’s an essential part of the human make-up — and so as far as we hairless apes are concerned (heck, the hairy ones, too, and the birds, and the fish, and the bacteria), that’s close enough to it being an objective truth that Life Is Better Than Death, for government work.

    Now, if I naturally would prefer a ratio of 80 years of more or less decent life to an eternity of dead oblivion, to 40 years of life to an eternity of death — why would I not prefer a ratio of 80 years of life, plus eternity, to a lesser quantity of years of death? Especially if eternal life subtracts out all the parts of life (like boredom) that could conceivably turn an eternity of it into something less desirable?

    Likewise, if we prefer justice to injustice, we ought to desire that the ratio of justice prevailing to injustice prevailing is as high as possible. You can’t get higher than infinity, which is the ratio you get if you hypothesize a God who ultimately rights all wrongs.

    Now, why would “hope” for life and justice prevailing over death and injustice, be morally superior than despairing that death and injustice prevail? For one thing, I really do believe that hope makes you happier. Despairing robs you (who are an inherent moral good as much as the next guy) of something that perhaps you ought to have. And who said robbery is only wrong if you rob someone else? I know “inasmuch as ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God,” but I’d include myself as one of my “fellow beings.” If the moral arbiter of the universe (be it God, or just The Way Things Are) wants me to be happy, then acting in opposition to that intent, is a violation of whatever morality that may exist.

    And any morality that’s worth bothering with, is aligned with our happiness: Salus populi ultima lex; “the welfare of the people is the highest law.”

    Of course this all presupposes that there is any objective thing called “justice” or “goodness,” but of course if we don’t, then there’s no point about talking about “morality” in any event.

  87. Hebron
    September 3, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    re 83

    “..plenty of things have been discarded along the way as indefensible, including things that I would rather not have discarded.”

    Boy Thomas, that sure sums up my feelings about my own quest for the truth.

  88. September 3, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    I suppose, in the interest of radical skepticism, I could question whether it’s objectively better to be alive than dead. I’m not going to bother. If it’s a mere emotional preference, it’s close enough to a universal one that it’s an essential part of the human make-up — and so as far as we hairless apes are concerned (heck, the hairy ones, too, and the birds, and the fish, and the bacteria), that’s close enough to it being an objective truth that Life Is Better Than Death, for government work.

    of course, subjective things can be widespread — insofar as we are “wired” similarly and are all in a “family” (e.g., same species). But that doesn’t make it objective is all.

    Now, if I naturally would prefer a ratio of 80 years of more or less decent life to an eternity of dead oblivion, to 40 years of life to an eternity of death — why would I not prefer a ratio of 80 years of life, plus eternity, to a lesser quantity of years of death? Especially if eternal life subtracts out all the parts of life (like boredom) that could conceivably turn an eternity of it into something less desirable?

    One issue is: how would eternal life even conceivably subtract boredom?

    Now, why would “hope” for life and justice prevailing over death and injustice, be morally superior than despairing that death and injustice prevail? For one thing, I really do believe that hope makes you happier. Despairing robs you (who are an inherent moral good as much as the next guy) of something that perhaps you ought to have.

    Again, you haven’t established that this is the dichotomy. For example, the alternative to “hoping” for life and justice isn’t “despairing” that death and injustice prevail.

    Next, it isn’t necessarily the case that hope makes you happier. Hope is an unrealistic expectation (even if a weakly held or uncertain one), and if such an expectation is not met (or is more doubtful), then that does not make you happier. In fact, I think that this is emotionally damaging.

  89. September 3, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    I keep on forgetting some parts at the ends of my messages

    What I wanted to say at the end is that an argument for hope presumes or assumes that you have some kind of belief in that which is hoped for.

    If you don’t believe in x, then hoping for x is emotionally damaging because the hope for x will constantly resign you to the fact that is not how things are or will be.

    In fact, I think that hope would be a bigger cause of despair, not lack of hope.

  90. September 3, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    Hebron: #79

    Good response to your experiences.

  91. Justin Tungate
    September 6, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Andrew S, it seems that I’ve had a lot of the same experiences as you. These are my thoughts.

    There is a particular region of the brain that correlates strongly to religious experience. In fact, religious experiences (such as “feeling a presence”, warmth and calmness, etc.) can be reliably reproduced in the laboratory. In some individuals this is a highly developed sense and in others it is not, just like all other brain functions. So, at least in part, your lack of religiosity probably ties into your personal neurochemistry. By the way, Elder Oaks of The Quorum of the Twelve has openly said that he has never felt the “burning in the bosom” that is described by so many LDS.

    The way I understand my own faith is by relating it to how I understand science. At some point I’ve found that I just have to take the word of the scientist as true, because I have no clue how to begin understanding the subject material (like quantum mechanics). In a very similar way when religion goes beyond the five senses I simply have to accept that I don’t understand the experience and trust that the religionists are telling me the truth.

    Personally, I rarely pray, attend temple services, or read the scriptures. Each of these experiences is about as informative and enlightening for me in a religious sense as is hitting my head against a wall, but the gospel makes sense to me in a logical way, so I keep going back. For me, that’s enough, but I understand when it’s not for others.

  92. September 15, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Justin,

    I missed your comment for all this time; sorry! (I don’t seem to have subscription to comments on my own posts…hmmm)

    When I think about the neurological issues regarding to religious experience, I sometimes think of something dangerous (or at least, maybe you can say whether you feel it is dangerous).

    If religious experiences can be reproduced in a laboratory, then are there “better” and “worse” ways of encouraging religious experiences. For example, I think that many things the church requests of its members IS an attempt to encourage religious experiences. HOWEVER, if such a way isn’t the most effective way, then should we be seeking alternative ways (e.g., medicines/drugs, etc.,)? If medicines are not “legitimate,” then why should any other attempt to encourage religious experiences be legitimate? Is there a line between a “legitimate” and “artificial” religious experience?

    I guess I don’t feel that the comparison of understanding things in science really fits for religion.

    For example, the quantum physicist does not ask me to do anything with my life. In fact, his work kinda doesn’t impact my life at all (sorry quantum physicists). Whether I trust him or do not is inconsequential. In fact, my profession of belief in quantum physics theories is inconsequential.

    But is this true of religion? Well, actually, church leaders want me to believe certain things are moral or immoral, and they want me to live my life in a certain way. Whether I trust leaders or not has big impacts on my livelihood, my well-being, and my life. In this way, I find that many times, when I “trust that the religionists are telling me the truth,” this directly decreases my well-being and my life, because in many times, where the disagreement is in on some alleged fault of mine or whatever.

  93. September 15, 2010 at 11:30 am

    in fact, let me test something

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *