Monday, October 15, 2007

Meet The Dragon

As a missionary, I was pretty much as “flecha” as they come. That’s Spanish for “arrow” –it means that you’re really a stick-to-the-books, no nonsense, sometimes-bordering-on-overbearing kind of a missionary. I was so sure of my testimony and what I taught, and sure that people needed to know what I knew.

In the mission you hear questions like, “Why does it matter what church I go to? All of them teach you to be good...” or “Why should I go to your church? God already led me to a different one.” These questions come up all the time and you eventually find out the best ways to answer them; “Well Christ only organized one church when He was here, so there should only be one true church today…” or “God always conducts the church through a prophet…” and a number of other responses which help people understand our claim of absolute truth. Sometimes investigators or hecklers present more challenging questions and doubts, but truth be told none of them were faith-shaking or scary for me. I was confident in my testimony and knowledge of the truthfulness of the gospel and in my ability to defend our doctrines.

But now that I’m back at school and studying philosophy, I regularly have to deal with questions that can be pretty frightening if you really think about them. I feel like most people in my classes have blinders on; they either shrug away the questions with a quick answer or insist that asking such questions is a waste of time or dangerous because they lead people into apostasy. Orwell was right: Ignorance is Bliss (sorry- that was a little bit cynical). If I want to keep and fortify my testimony, I have to find answers to these questions because they are sources of doubt; I see no element of faith in dismissal. Isn’t the most repeated message in the scriptures “seek and ye shall find?” So by now you’re probably wondering of what kind of wild questions I could possibly be thinking. Well they’re not simple questions, so I’ll throw out just one for now. If you’ve ever read Plato, Aristotle, or a number of other philosophers, then you’ve probably seen the dialogue format of presenting an argument. I think I’ll try that here so you can see that this is a real battle that goes on within me. Let me introduce you to the Dragon:

The Dragon: “If most religions help people to be better and to feel closer to God, does it matter what faith a person follows?”
Draco: “He should seek out and follow the religion that teaches only true doctrines. This is the best religion.”
The Dragon: “How can he know that the doctrines of any given religion are true?”
Draco: “He must rely on spiritual experiences.”
The Dragon: “You mean miracles?”
Draco: “Not in the usual sense of the word. I mean that he must pray and receive an answer from God as a feeling or reassurance.”
The Dragon: “I see. So “God,” or perhaps more appropriately “some divine source,” since not all religions believe in your idea of “God,” should tell me what religion I should follow.
Draco: “Precisely”
The Dragon: “And He will tell me that I should follow what you call the best religion, or that religion that teaches only true ideas.”
Draco: “Yes.”
The Dragon: “And does He always give the same answer?”
Draco: “He is one God and thus has only one truth- so yes, He will always guide people to the best religion.”
The Dragon: “But there are millions of Christians belonging to sects that claim opposing truths. And there are millions of people belonging to other religions- Buddhists, Muslims and Jews. All of these millions of people profess and are sure that they have had equally confirming spiritual experiences that justify their faith over other beliefs. So if millions- many more millions than those belonging to your church- assert that they know that their religion is the best religion, how can we be sure that your spiritual experiences are more valid and truth proving? Perhaps there are just as many millions of people who have had spiritual experiences specifically guiding them away from your church as those who have been led inside.”
Draco: “Then their experiences were false or inspired of evil sources, because this church is the only one that contains a fullness of truth.
The Dragon: “How do you know? Perhaps it is you who have had false or evilly inspired experiences.”
Draco: “But I know that what I believe is true!”
The Dragon: “Prove it.”

Man, that Dragon is tricky! I’m sorry to say you’ll probably be hearing more from him in the future. This argument is inspired by Hume and William James, just fyi- not that you probably care. I just didn’t want to take credit for someone else’s idea.


Silus Grok said...

Hey! Welcome to the land of MoHos... Gay BYU Student mentioned you in a post today.

We're a crazy bunch, but it's always nice to have a new voice.

Anonymous said...

Hey, there! I am glad to have another blog to follow (though I am too lazy or closeted to write one myself). You have no idea how much I have enjoyed reading. I relate to you very well. From liking "Little Mermaid" to being a flecha on the mish. Email me sometime

biggins said...

This might just be an intellectual diversionary tactic that I play on myself to ignore the deepest issues, but when I think about the problems you address in this post I make what I think are a few important distinctions that you don't make, at least in this limited dialogue--I'm sure your complete thoughts are a lot more complex than this summary. One is that I don't believe our church necessarily teaches only true doctrines--I consider the ban on priesthood to blacks, for example, to be a mistake introduced by human fallibilty/racism, and clearly the church in its early years developed markedly in its doctrines, fleshing them out and gaining deeper and new understandings of things. So I would make your argument against the dragon be more along the lines that our church has the purest doctrines and truest way to receive higher ones, but not necessarily that we always have 100% correct ones. Hopefully that's not a nitpicky thing; I think it makes your argument stronger.

The second thing that I would say differently in your argument is that when people from other faiths have a very strong testimony of the truth of their church, it does not have to be "false" or inspired by an evil source. Why couldn't God give them a strong confirmation that their faith is a good one and is leading them towards him? Of course, I don't think that it will ultimately be enough, but for now it might be the best thing they have available to them/that they're ready for. Of course, if they've studied Mormonism a lot and understand it and they believe God tells them it's bad, I'm open to considering that an evil influence on them.

And in response to the question of how to reconcile the fact that others have had spiritual experiences confirming what they believe is true, I think the only real response is "Ask God yourself. It's between you and him. Numbers don't mean anyone's right, obviously, and you are just going to have to do your own searching and praying and seeking." I might "know" that if they do that (and do it right--whatever that means) they will come to know that the LDS church is right, but they can only know it when they do it.

Sorry for the long response, but I liked this post a lot. Again, I don't know if any of the stuff I added really gets at the root of the problem (which I agree is thorny) but these ideas help me grapple with it.

draco said...

thanks for your thoughts- you're already anticipating some of the posts that I have drafted :)
The whole blacks and the priesthood issue is very intriguing to me- I have a slightly different theory about why that happened, but your argument is persuasive.
As for the "evil source" -sorry if I wasn't clear; I was referring only to people who feel like they receive specific spiritual inspiration to NOT join the church (I met some of these folks in the mission)- not to people who are inspired to join other faiths (general authorities often cite Martin Luther as an example of a man inspired to find new religious associations, and I agree that God leads people to join other faiths for certain reasons). But you're right- the argument could use some rewording.
And finally, touching the validity of spiritual experiences- The Dragon will be back to handle that one.
Again thanks for your suggestions!

biggins said...

Cool, I can't wait to hear your take on the blacks/priesthood thing, and the next dialogue. Keep up the good work.

Kengo Biddles said...

My response to the dragon's 'millions and millions' comment would be that those millions and millions, nay billions of people are born into their path and never question what they've been taught, never ask, "is this the best there is?"

And that (sadly) goes for most Mormons.

And (belatedly) welcome to the craziness that is the moqueerosphere.

David said...

Awesome blog! It really makes me think! Man, with all you cool moho guys down in Provo it kinda makes me wish I was still at BYU :)

Romulus said...

Nice to see another BYU Moho around!