29 December 2013

OK, but what if you were REALLY wrong...?

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?


jimf said...

> . . .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!).

Funny you should bring Tolkien into it. ;->

But here's something to consider about "grand missions"
in _The Lord of the Rings_.

The Hobbits of the Shire -- the country bumpkins for whom
Gandalf and Aragorn and Frodo and Sam sacrifice so much --
were entirely innocent of the grand sweeps of cosmology
and history and good and evil with which the reader (in parallel
with Frodo, whose "real world" name comes from Old English
fród, "wise by experience") gradually becomes acquainted.

Ordinary hobbitish folk may have heard vaguely of the King,
but they knew nothing of the Elder Days, or the
Valar, or the Silmarils, or the Enemy, or the exiled Elves,
or the Rings of Power, or downfallen Númenor, or the true nature
of the Wizards. Frodo comes to know much of this by paying a
huge price, and it seems he pays that price in part in
order to protect his erstwhile fellow Shire-dwellers from ever
having to learn about it, and in the end has to take that
knowledge with him out of Middle-earth.

The Elves, or at least the High Elves, were also leaving Middle-earth
and taking this knowledge with them, and Mortal Men were poised
at the beginning of the Fourth Age to forget what little
they ever knew about it.

So actually living in Middle-earth, assuming you were "ordinary
folk" like the Hobbits or like a farmer in Gondor, probably
would have been much like living in our world in a pre-industrial
age, unless you were (un)lucky enough to get mixed up with
Elves or Wizards.


jimf said...

> Would I be so nobly submissive to the truth if I were
> really, really wrong?

That is, of course, a deep philosophical question.

You might enjoy reading C. S. Lewis's _The Abolition of Man_.

A Summary, followed by a Brief Summary
by Arend Smilde
http://www.lewisiana.nl/abolsum/ )

Another bit of Lewis that comes to mind is this excerpt from
_The Last Battle_ (the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia).
The passage recounts the experience of a man named Emeth [Hebrew "truth"],
a noble soldier from Calormen, a country at war with
Narnia. The Calormens served a god named Tash. The Narnians
served the lion, Aslan, who was the Christ figure in these

Emeth says, “For always since I was a boy I have served Tash
and my great desire was to know more of him, if
it might be, to look upon his face. But the name of
Aslan was hateful to me.”

In _The Last Battle_, Emeth finds himself in Aslan’s
country after having been told that Aslan and Tash
are the same God. This is what their conversation, when he
encounters Aslan for the first time:

"So I went over much grass and many flowers and among
all kinds of wholesome and delectable trees till lo! in a narrow
place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion.
The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size was an
elephant's; his hair was like pure gold and the brightness of
his eyes, like gold that is liquid in the furnace. He was more
terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty
he surpassed all that is in the world, even as the rose in bloom
surpasses the dust of the desert. Then I fell at his feet and thought,
'Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of
all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and
not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than
to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him.'
But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched
my forehead with his tongue and said, 'Son, thou art welcome.'

But I said, 'Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant
of Tash.' He answered, 'Child, all the service thou has done to
Tash, I account as service done to me.' Then by reason of
my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame
my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, 'Lord,
is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?'
The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was
not against me) and said, 'It is false. Not because he and I
are one, but because we are opposites. I take to me
the services which thou hast done to him, for I and he are
of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done
to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore
if a man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake,
it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not,
and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my
name, then though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom
he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou
understand, Child?' I said, 'Lord, thou knowest how
much I understand.' But I said also (for the truth
constrained me), 'Yet I have been seeking Tash all
my days.' 'Beloved,' said the Glorious One, 'unless thy
desire had been for me, thou wouldst not have sought
so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”'"