As I described in a previous post, I have often gone back to the question of whether I could possibly "go back" or re-integrate LDS belief into my perspective if I thought and felt it were correct to do so. When I've heard other "post-Mormons" swear they couldn't go back, I have patted myself on the back for thinking, "I could go back in a heartbeat if I thought it was right." Covenants, callings, garments, and all. I don't feel any draw to go back, despite missing certain aspects of involvement (community, service opportunities, evaluating and remembering principles and paradigms in a somewhat formalized setting, singing and playing hymns, primary songs, feeling like part of something unique with the grandest mission possible...aside, maybe, from the universe of The Lord of the Rings: that place is sweet!). But if I believed it was right, of course I could go back. Even if a spirit came to me and started to teach me something unexpected, I hope I would listen critically with full intent to seek and understand any truth being presented.
One day, in one of those moments, something occurred to me. What if I died, found that life continued, and was not met by Jesus but by Fred Phelps. Well, crap. This gave me pause...as in, completely halted my self congratulatory humility. I was disgusted by some of the prospects. What if this spirit tried to teach me that slavery was OK in some circumstances, that Mosaic Law regarding virgins was actually God-given and correct, that thirteen-year-old girls should be assigned to fifty-year-old men, that people should be eaten alive as sacrifices, or that child abuse is, in fact, not as bad as consensual sex between unmarried individuals? I could hear out the Buddha, Muhammad, or Vishnu, I think, but there's no deity or prophet other than Jesus (as I understand him) before whom I'd readily kneel, and I'd rather roast in hell or cease to exist than receive instruction from Osama Bin Laden or Warren Jeffs. I think the vast majority of the world would find no fault in this, but it's an extreme illustration of the possible limits of my openness to truth or reliance on human understanding. Even if Muhammad was the figure waiting for me on the other side, there'd be no immediate kneeling and no humble familiarity.
Maybe I could console my sense of intellectual honesty with the idea that irrational or violent fundamentalism is hugely unlikely to be the true explanation of the universe and existence compared to a religion like moderate Mormonism or Islam. But is that objectively rational? Is it possible for me to be truly objective? Does openness to all possibilities make me scarily susceptible to false ideas, or is it the empowering key to finding truth? Both?
I don't know that humbly and readily kneeling before Jesus as I understood LDS doctrine to describe him would make me remarkably humble. I think it defies the dismissive stereotypes of the "lost" being rebellious and stiff-necked, but what if the truth were something completely obliterating any range of expectation I might have had? If I wouldn't readily bow and submit to an unexpected master, how much intellectual honesty and humility is actually reflected? How much of my ready response, "I would kneel," is actual openness to truth, how much is residual conviction or latent belief, how much is self delusion about my openness and teachability, and how much is nostalgia for the familiar? When I believed in LDS doctrine, I prided myself on my conviction, faith, and loyalty to the truth when I firmly knew that even a spirit could not deceive me, that if an angel came with a message other than "the gospel" I knew, I would not be deceived. And I called it humility before the Lord that I would not be so proud as to put more stock in the words of an angel than in the inspiration I had been quietly given through feelings of testimony and fruits of the Spirit. And many Muslims have that same conviction and loyalty to the truth as they understand it. And Westboro Baptists. And Jews. Are we to praise the Jewish person for having the "humility" to accept a spiritual impression that Christianity is true while deriding the supposed "lack of conviction" of a Christian who accepts a spiritual impression that Islam is true? Am I supposed to pat myself on the back for being willing to accept Mormonism if taught it in another life and simultaneously pat myself on the back for being unwilling to "be deceived" by false spirits preaching things that contradict Mormon doctrinal understanding but which bring "the fruits of the Spirit"? Where does conviction end and arrogance begin?
Would I be so nobly submissive to the truth if I were really, really wrong?