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Truth and truth (part 1?)

March 31, 2009

So, in a relatively older article about my not believing the prophets are infallible (geez, that’s not a shocker: Mormons don’t believe in prophetic infallibility ANYWAY), I have been having a great discussion with Mormon Heretic (I think he’s more Mormon than Heretic, but that’s ok with me!) regarding the potential culpability of the church for some of its past actions. MH has also written on his blog a great historical analysis of the relationship between Sidney Rigdon, the church, and Joseph Smith, which I admittedly haven’t gotten through all of the articles in the series (I actually have gotten a life and now it is filled with interviews and pre-interview dinners each night of the week as well as preparationi for fencing club nationals). However, I did read the final article in the series, because it related to the discussion we were having and the discussion I’ll try to have now.

Really, I think this is good thing to discuss, because it was a major part of my process of analyzing my place in the church. While I certainly appreciate John Dehlin and others who write about how members can stay in the church with alternative beliefs, for me, my calculation of advantages and disadvantages didn’t necessarily lead me to ask a question like, “If I can’t accept the church as True, can I accept it as good? If yes, stay, if no, leave.” In some way, I see the church as some entity that proposes to provide Truth…and if it doesn’t provide Truth (but maybe only smaller “truths” [small ts]), then it’s not special. It’s not special in the same way that most human organizations are.

I realized that this was only a problem for me if I presumed that there should be some kind of Truth. And I think this might be a hangup of many people who find out unfortunate things about the church. It might seem that if you find out some prophet was in some scandal or another prophet was racist that this shatters this “implied” idea of “infallibility” that you might have given them. Even though Prophets aren’t infallible, according to official doctrine. The Church, so to speak, works through imperfect men.

So, I guess the idea behind the particular interpretation was to assume that the Church is True, but the people are not. So sometimes, the people can wreck havoc, but the Church (or at the very least, the Gospel), should always withstand. And in my article before, I talked about how this seemed like a silly standard.

So in all this confusion, it seems unreliable to take a broad stance that there is this true church and that we have the tools to discern its truth, especially when we then have to make all of these exceptions for fallible, imperfect leaders.

It seems a lot like saying, “Socialism is a perfect system, but it has never been implemented correctly.” (In fact, that’s what people say, don’t they? The gospel is a perfect system and the church is true, but it’s people, man, who suss it all up.)

And this is kinda where I want to begin. I’ve been trying to elaborate in the comments of my Infallibility post, but I don’t think I truly was getting too far, and in any case, I think it would be better to make a new post for it.

Truth, in my mind, is a great and large and ambitious proposition. Things that are True with a big T are unshakeable, metaphysical, pervading. They are the Way Things Are and the Way Things Will Be. We might misinterpret and run away from Truth, but Truth cannot be destroyed.

So when someone has faith in the gospel, I think they have faith that this is True. They have faith that Mercy and Justice, the Atonement, etc., are Laws of the universe that actually exist in the same way material laws exist. So, we can fight it, but it’ll still be that way.

I think that if one accepts this kind of Truth, then testing this worldview has some stringent tests. And Mormonism provides some of that kind of context. For example, in Mormonism, the Gospel is unshakeable. Even after an Apostasy, there were still tools (that are theoretically universally available to whoever will ask) to receive the revelation to get the truth Gospel. This also powers the idea that the Gospel will be true regardless of people who botch things up.

In my mind, if this were so, then we should expect to see and experience more. We should expect to see that those in the Gospel have this massive and overpowering advantage over those who don’t (kinda like those who work with the laws of the universe have a massive and overpowering advantage over those who try to work against them). We shouldn’t see all kinds of confounding variables and confounding ideas, and all sorts of legitimate areas for doubt (and we shouldn’t have to ‘buy’ confusing explanations for all of these confounding variables…at best, we should recognize that we do not really have the full Truth). So, while the church allows for a pluralism of thought (there may be other groups that have part of the truth), in the end, because of certain mutual exclusivity issues, there can only be One True Thing. And it seems like, we don’t really have it yet.

However, this all is only problematic with Truth, the big overarcing thing.

I also think…that we have something delineated as truth. Small t truth is something that is somewhat mutable and can be resisted, but it still forms a part of our experience. It’s because there is a lot of constructed meaning in the world (ooh, constructivism was something in a recent poll I saw). For example, the English language is a seemingly pervasive part of everyone who reads this blog’s experience, but it is not Truth (oh man, with all the abuses it does to its own grammar, no wonder). We need not expect English to be perfect, so when it isn’t, there isn’t any problem. We don’t have a crisis of faith when something that is merely true happens to be worse than we expected, because we didn’t have any over-human expectations.

When we deal with companies, and we deal with pragmatics, then we start getting into small t true. We might say that what is “effective” is “good,” and then we will see that effective organizations do better in general. But this isn’t a Truth of the universe…this is just where society is at and how we respond to these constructed ideas.

Small t truth doesn’t have such an onus on it. And that’s kinda what I was getting at in my Infallibility post. Even though we might like Google very much, we don’t pretend that it is Truth or that it has Truth. And yet, when people choose religions, they do think that they have found something greater than mere truth…they think they have found Truth.

However, because Google doesn’t have this onus on it, it also doesn’t reap fantastic spoils. No one (or at least, hopefully no one) dedicates their lives to Google. They might stick around as long as it is “good” and “effective” and “desirable,” but Google isn’t the benchmark. On the other hand, many people will see the church as precisely that benchmark…and even when they are unhappy or living unwell, they might assume that it is a problem with them and not, say, the organization. Or not, say, the model. Because if we accept the model as True, it is True like gravity and we can’t fight that. We can at best work with it and create airplanes.

…wow, I really hate writing long posts, so I’ll split this up into a few posts and put this as a tentative (part 1).

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  1. Andrew,

    I laugh every time you say that I’m more mormon than heretic. You’re right, but at church, sometimes they think I’m more heretic than mormon when I talk about catholic saints, NIV bibles, I don’t believe in certain scriptures, or I find fault in prophets like Joshua or Abraham, etc…..

    You must have some sort of background in philosophy or something. I think your shorter explanation of truth vs Truth was easier for me to understand.

  2. I look at the way that the church brands some people as being heretical in the same way that other Christian groups sometimes brand the church as being heretical and nonChristian. Really…if you were to ask a disinterested third party (who presumably does not have bias), would they look at the details of the church and say we’re Christian or would they nitpick about councils and doctrines and creeds? I think they’d see, “Well, that’s a Christian group to me.”

    And if someone saw you, even if you talk about catholic saints, NIV Bibles, etc., would they brand you a heretic ESPECIALLY when they have someone like *me* right next to you?

    I guess I need to work on the unclarity of my explanations…but keep in mind that I don’t really know *what* it is you’re not understanding of it…so I’m in the dark stabbing at what it could be…

  3. So, MH, if you want to stop being thought of as a heretic, just arrange for Andrew to attend church with you.

    That was your point, right, Andrew? *grin*

  4. Andrew,

    Just continue with your series. I’ll let you know if I’m unclear on other things, but I feel like I have a good understanding of what you’re getting at.


    I’m fine with being called a heretic, or a mormon. They’re both endearing terms to me, and I embrace them. Since Andrew and the LDS like to emphasize the different parts of my moniker, I think putting them together describes me best.

  5. Ray, I see past your crafty proselytizing ways. If MH and I both went to church together, then they’d more easily brand both of us heretics than rebrand him. 😀

    MH, my next article (coming out…whenever I get the time to make more than short comments) will try to simplify things (so it won’t be too continuous with this current wall of text)

  6. Todd permalink

    What really left me feeling estranged from the church was not the realization that it was not The Truth, but rather, the growing sense that there were many important truths which the church not only did not teach, but which it rejected and actively opposed. Mormons were more of a hindrance than a help to the civil rights movement. The Mormon church and Mormon culture were both major obstacles to the women’s rights movement. I saw this as part of our history as I was growing up, and figured it was more important to look forward than dwell on the past. And what did I have to look forward to? Belligerent and intellectually incoherent opposition to gay rights, with a simultaneous complete disregard of American torture policies. With prophets like that, who needs . . . um, whatever the opposite of prophets is?

    In short, it wasn’t the sneaking suspicion that there was no god that led me away from the church–I could handle being an agnostic and still participate. It was the growing conviction that the church hierarchy was actually retarding rather than accelerating the moral development of its members.

  7. Andrew,

    I just did a post on Abraham, which identifies to big issues I have with him as a prophet. Suffice it to say, that most Christians, Muslims, and Jews are going to have some big issues with my issues. While I still think Abraham’s a prophet, I suspect most religious types will definitely see some heresies in my views. I’d be curious to see if you see more heretic in me than you saw before.

    And Todd, I’d be curious on your opinions too, if you don’t mind.

  8. it’s amusing how you’re trying so hard to hereticize yourself up now. i’ll check it out.

  9. One last comment/question about heretic status (I promise). Do Luther and Galileo meet your definition of heretic?

  10. Luther and Galileo aren’t so much heretics (if they are heretics; then by the same justification Mormons are not Christians).

  11. Ok, I lied, and I apologize for lying. What is your definition of a heretic? (I guess I should have asked this question before, as I had a sneaking suspicion of your answer.)

  12. basically: you need not apologize for making more comments on my site. There is *never* a problem with that.

    My definition…is probably most definitely at odds with traditional definitions. But my idea of a heretic is not someone who goes simply against the *letter* of the beliefs of the organization (e.g., Galileo, Luther, etc.,), but someone who goes against the *spirit* of the beliefs of the organization.

    I think the former is how certain Christians try to claim Mormons aren’t Christian, when if you look at the *spirit* of Christianity, I think most people would feel that Mormons fit.

    Umm…so a true heretic would be trying to destroy or subvert the organization/church for the sake of destroying the church. I mean, I guess the catholic church felt that of Galileo in particular, but he and luther weren’t trying to destroy the catholic church for the sake of destroying the church. It was for the sake of improving the church.

  13. Great site this and I am really pleased to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

  14. So how would you define Luther and Galileo, or rather, what do you think is a more appropriate title than heretic?

  15. Well, with Martin Luther, it’s like his movement — he was a reformer.

    I think both were whistleblowers, although I guess such a term is very anachronistic to describe them.

  16. So heretic is a useless term to you then?

  17. absolutely not. As I said a bit before, a heretic is someone who goes against the *spirit* of the beliefs of an organization, who tries to destroy or subvert the church from within for the sake of destroying or subverting the church.

    So, let’s say we had an anti-mormon who was a member…who used his clout as a member to subvert people away. This would be heresy.

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  1. Truth and truth (part II, the simplified version) « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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