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Do Mormons even CARE about truth?

November 18, 2010

TruthThis post may seem frustrated, but there’s been this phenomenon I’ve been noticing for a while…but I haven’t been able to articulate my thoughts about it well enough to write about it. I still don’t think I can really articulate it.

Here goes nothing.

Have you ever noticed that many Mormons become enamored with creative ideas of truth?

…Even now, I have to qualify, and qualify my qualifications. I actually think that many Mormons are obsessed with very traditional, Platonic, “Correspondence Theory” kinds of truth. I believe most members believe what they do because they actually trust that there are factual events out there in history, and that the Book of Mormon, Bible, the words of the Prophets, and so forth accurately reveal or discover the nature of these events.

I believe that many ex-Mormons also are obsessed with this idea of truth…so when they suspect that Mormon teachings may not align with what they believe the outside world and universe holds, they maintain their framework (one hyper-interested in the pursuit of truth [or the appearance thereof]) and become disillusioned with the church.

And that leads another category of Mormons…one that I’ve increasingly dealt with on the internet…and this group is the one I’m talking about today.

This group recognizes the problems with Mormon history or doctrine or whatever…but maintain a testimony. It’s just that…their testimony is…different. Maybe they recognize that the church is “good,” instead of true. Or maybe they recognize that allegories and metaphors may still tell truths about the world and our dealings with it.

I’ve seen plenty of articles in this vein…one of the latest I’ve seen is one at Wheat and Tares about how we “make belief/ve“. John at Mormon Expression had a far more cynical article somewhat tangentially related.

I responded once to Glenn’s article, but that really just sent my mind racing with more thoughts.

See…I don’t really have an issue if someone is willing to find value out of their religion through “making” their beliefs…

It just seems to me that there are a few issues with this:

1) People generally are raised to believe that beliefs are supposed to intersect with actual reality. This alternative approach, then, is immediately foreign to most people.

2) If beliefs *do not* intersect with actual reality, real life consequences result.

3) The church itself espouses that its teachings correspond with reality, often in a literal sense.

So, it seems straightforward to understand that a Mormon (or ex-Mormon, or non-Mormon) would adjust his beliefs on the idea that he is seeking truth. But it seems to me at some point that people are trying to seek “useful” or “good” things over true things.

And I don’t understand this.

The question that I just have now thought to ask is this: oh New Order/Middle Way/liberal believing Mormon, would you take such a stance toward truth and beliefs had you never been Mormon?

It seems to me that the major reason these people take such a position with truth is because they once believed in their beliefs (the Mormon ones, at least) as those which aligned with a literal reality…and then had something that shook that paradigm. As a coping mechanism, they readjusted the entire goalposts for believing itself, coming up with these admittedly innovative, but avant garde reasons for believing or methods of defining truth.

It seems to me that this method of thinking has practically been enshrined as a “higher” “stage of faith.” Maybe the reason I look at it negatively is because I have not reached that plane of existence or whatever?

It just seems to me as well that most people would not come across this method of thinking. When I raise up the idea of a “belief” to most people, it is very connected with ideas of real, actual, literal truth, and truth is something “out there” that your beliefs can either align with or not. Maybe I’m too steeped in the kool-aid, but I can’t even begin to comprehend Rorty’s arguments against CTofT, for example, and I don’t think I’m alone in finding alternative views like his to be strange.

Yet, there are so many members for whom if there are difficulties with Book of Mormon historicity…no worries! It can still be an inspired document if we will but adjust what criteria we would have for an inspired document.

…at some point, I know I’m just talking about weak, pathetic, “cerebral” beliefs, as Seth R. would discuss…things that pale in comparison to how people actually live their lives and how their lives are improved (and how they improve others’ lives) by their actions. But I feel like my point, even though it has talked about “cerebral” beliefs and truth, really DOES impact actions people will want to take. And this will impact lives.

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17 Comments
  1. Glenn permalink

    “The question that I just have now thought to ask is this: oh New Order/Middle Way/liberal believing Mormon, would you take such a stance toward truth and beliefs had you never been Mormon?”

    Glad I’ve got you thinking so much Andrew. The answer to your question is no. I don’t think so, at least. I can’t be sure. But probably not.

    Now what?

  2. Now what? I don’t even know!

    Because I can ask myself basically the same question, except from an “interested disbeliever” standpoint.

    “oh cultural ex-Mormon, former Mormon, post-Mormon, would you take such an interested and involved stance toward something you do not believe in had you never been Mormon?”

    No. But all this tells me is that yes, an ex-Mormon is a different sort of beast than a never-Mormon. Which I already knew that.

  3. Mormons care about truth to the extent that their truths must fit the world to acquire converts. At the edges, people will always have to do work for Mormonism to float comfortably in modernity, but at the center, the culture functions reasonably well at a lower introspective level.

    A lot of Mormon scholars and activists are annoyed that church leaders aren’t trained in philosophical theology to give Mormonism a stronger foundation. I forget the response by church leaders…probably something along the lines of higher education levels do not affect faithfulness anyway, so the philosophical “mumbo-jumbo” is not necessary. Yet, if it people aren’t willing to ground their truths in a shared reality, I tend to look at sociology and cultural theory to explain why people are acting the way they do before I even approach giving credence to the belief system.

  4. Naomi permalink

    Andrew, interesting stuff. This all ties back to the tagline of your blog:

    Those who leave the Mormon Church, but can’t leave it alone.

    Mormons ask me all the time why I’m so interested in the religion, even though I don’t now believe. Is it possible for one to be uninterested in something they’ve been exposed to as a “truth?” I don’t think so. It’s like asking why they are so interested in Mormonism, despite all the controversies/possible proof against? Things affect all people. That’s life. Whether you say your thoughts and conclusions are affected by truths or “cerebral” thought, weren’t those conclusions set off by “emotions,” anyway?

    One and the same to me. Anyway, I think I’m getting a little astray here, and missed the main point of the post… :-)
    Was just on my mind tonight. Good distraction from Hw.

  5. Naomi, thanks for the comment.

    I’m wondering about your question, and I do think it is topical. I don’t think I’m interested in *everything* that I once believed was true…

    The cerebral comment wasn’t so much about the distinction between thoughts and emotions though…it was more about the difference between mental (both thoughts AND emotions) and physical (the actions one takes). Since I don’t “live” Mormonism (actually, in many respects, I do…I still follow the Word of Wisdom, Law of chastity, etc., for the most part…but I most certainly don’t attend meetings, go to the temple, home teach, etc.), it shouldn’t matter what I think or feel because I don’t “live” it.

    (This raises a different question: those who don’t believe, but do “live” Mormonism through and through. Does their disbelief matter if they are committed to Mormon commandments?)

    Haha, I probably should get to doing some homework as well.

  6. Naomi permalink

    Andrew, you made the point about -
    it shouldn’t matter what I think or feel because I don’t “live” it.

    My worst comparison follows:
    I don’t live in Africa, but I still find myself feeling for/protesting about fair trade for products from third world countries/hunger/abuse…
    I think just because you don’t “live” something shouldn’t affect the scale in which you’re entitled to care about a topic/person/religion. No? Especially in a case when you have lived it, and adamantly, before?

    And as to their disbelief–the question would be to “whom” does it matter?

    Whom/who…

  7. Naomi,

    but that IS an entire point.

    You don’t live in Africa. Your “feeling for/protesting” about fair trade is weak, ineffectual, and a bit privileged. People who actually go to third world countries and deal with hunger on a first-hand basis often criticize people who want to help from home while sitting in their armchairs drinking coffee that is “fair”.

    To the disbelief: to whom? The church (which has a prerogative in having people believe…doesn’t it?) Themselves (don’t people have a prerogative to believe consistently with how they act…or can the church’s teachings be decoupled from beliefs?) To their family, friends, etc.,

  8. Peter permalink

    I am one of the Mormons who sticks to the truth that is taught by the church. I see the conflict and sometimes I wonder if it is supposed to be that way in order for people to depend upon God for truth.

    Years ago, I received a strong, unmistakeable spiritual witness that the Book of Mormon is True. Even though I deeply feel it’s truth each time I read it, I would be on an unsure foundation without that witness.

    Today, there is tons of information on the internet about the church, most of which is twisted, half true, false or just presented in a light to make the church look stupid. And it seems that physical, historical and scientific evidence about the church is in a constant state of ever changing and ever reinterpreted flux. If a person is looking for it, there is actually tons of evidence to support the church.

    So where does a person go for truth. It does not appear to be found in the world. A mormon must decide where to go for truth and they usually trust in the spiritual element. In the end, what we believe is a choice.

  9. Peter, thanks for commenting!

    I can understand if you stick by the church because you have received what you believe to be a strong, unmistakable spiritual witness in favor of the BoM (but then, I think the issue is that plenty of other people for other religions and philosophies have similar strong, unmistakable witnesses.)

    And I’m not going to deny that there isn’t tons of information that is “twisted,” “half-true,” or downright “false” posted about the church — but that isn’t the say that there aren’t legitimate issues with church scriptures, doctrine, or practice either.

    I mean, to say that “physical, historical, and scientific evidence about the church is in a constant state of ever changing and ever reinterpreted flux” is either a bit coy, a bit naive, or a bit naive. It sounds like those people who say that “physical, historical, and scientific evidence about evolution is in a constant state of ever changing and ever reinterpreted flux.” These people want to assert that evolution has these wide gaping holes and that science will completely reverse its position every so many years or so, but that isn’t the case. Rather, the changes are incremental, concern details, etc., The rare, big paradigm leaps are from entirely new, unimagined and unanticipated discoveries, but they too must account for the existing data.

    I think that if your paradigm asserts that truth “does not appear to be found in the world,” then that’s when you’re on the slippery slope to some kind of relativism or to a cloistering in the chapel.

    And I mean, if you want to do that, then that’s fine…but it’ll mean that the church will be less and less able to confront the outside world and outside reality.

  10. Naomi permalink

    Andrew, my lame efforts ‘will’ be criticized. My “feelings/protests” are weak, but it has to be taken in context of what I’m trying to achieve, right? I’m not trying to change the world, but if my sipping of fair coffee helps a farmer/creates awareness/large companies rethink the way they deal, opens discussion, then what is the harm?
    Unlike Africa I have lived Mormonism before, and not only from the safety of my armchair. Doesn’t that entitle me to care, be curious or simply have strong feelings about something?
    This:
    People who actually go to third world countries and deal with hunger on a first-hand basis often criticize people who want to help from home

    My efforts towards Mormonism are weak. I’m not dealing with Mormonism on a first hand basis, I’m not forcing a tidal wave of change on them or protesting outside the stake centre, but discussion, awareness, study, and plain curiosity can’t hurt. And maybe Mormons will say it hurts them? But that’s like saying that scientists should discontinue research into the origins of the world and anything for fear that study/discussion on these theories might disprove previous beliefs/facts. They press on, truth is important. But like you said– Do Mormons want truth? It’s the million dollar question.

    For me, I think Mormons forget how important the past is. It’s supposed to be the “present/future/decisions” that make us who we are, but were these decisions not all effected by our actions and beliefs of the past? And this is inadvertently or not.
    It’s not so easy to put up a blank to something that played a huge role in our lives, and why would everyone want to? Something that affected me hugely, by nature will make me curious why it did so?
    Wow, this is long. Shouldn’t let me on the net in the afternoon…
    This is the most interesting aspect of my “beliefs” (whatever they might be…:-) –The fact that the religion has a huge pull on me. I haven’t been to a meeting in about two and a half years, but I continue to do like you –follow the wow and all the other aspects of Mormonism that I used to. Why? Good question, but I don’t think it has much to do with, or that it matters to:

    The church (which has a prerogative in having people believe…doesn’t it?) Themselves (don’t people have a prerogative to believe consistently with how they act…or can the church’s teachings be decoupled from beliefs?)
    –Why can’t teachings be decoupled from beliefs? Depends what a person is trying to do with their beliefs.

  11. Mormons care about truth, but they care even more about preserving their faith (as if that were some great thing), and they are willing to engage in increasingly tortuous and far-fetched philosophical gymnastics in order to do so. They’re also prone to black-outs in the face of disconfirming evidence.

    And I understand why. It’s hard to change paradigms, especially when there’s a social system involved.

    Peter, your comment is especially interesting to me — I recognise it from my own Mormon days. The situation, as you’ve cast it, is: I don’t want to rely on the mountains of evidence that disconfirm this feeling I have had, so instead I’m going to rely on my feeling and ignore the evidence. If you go that way, you have to ignore more and more, and your world shrinks. You also have a god that’s trying to fool you.

    Instead, I would ask: Is it possible that your feelings could be wrong? That you might have been mistaken? That your feelings had some natural source, other than a god? We often have feelings that we misinterpret.

    Believe what you like, but I urge you not to ignore evidence from the world. There is a thread running through Mormon belief that all truth is true, wherever it comes from, and I’d like to encourage you to embrace even uncomfortable facts.

  12. Glenn permalink

    Daniel,

    I have had the same strong experiences Peter described, not just of BoM, but other things as well. And I am in exactly the position you describe, in answering the your question “yes, I think it is highly likely that those feelings were wrong.” Not wrong as in the sense of “not real” — but wrong as in the sense of Princess Bride “inconceivable” (aka “I do not think it means what you think it means”).

    I don’t thing that all truth is true — even with this whole “make believe” thing. It’s not about truth — it’s about coping.

    So, I have embraced the uncomfortable facts — the incongruous grays — the ugly contradictions — the ridiculous improbabilities. I’ve got it. Now what?

  13. Glenn permalink

    I should have added to the above:

    I’ve got it. So now what?

  14. I don’t know where you’re at, Glenn, so I’m not sure how to answer your question.

    In general, if someone’s letting go of superstition, I’d say: Now you can have a worldview that you don’t have to keep propping up, and things will finally seem comprehensible. Your guide can be the real world. That’s a great thing!

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