Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Playing with Fire

I told you that the Dragon would be back. Here he is making his stand against spiritual experience:

The Dragon: “How can you claim to know that what you believe is true?”
Draco: “The primary way (or at least the method most emphasized in the church) to know between good and bad or truth and falsehood is through a feeling/thought of reassurance or peace.”
The Dragon: “And how can you rely on these thoughts and feelings?”
Draco: “I can rely on them because they come from God through the Holy Ghost and because Satan cannot falsify these feelings.”
The Dragon: “But how can you be sure that this peace comes from God and that some evil source is unable to imitate them?”
Draco: “Well, the scriptures teach us this principle in several places: Moroni 7 and 10, Ephesians 5:22, and D&C 50 to name a few.
The Dragon: “That’s all very well, but how can we be sure that what the scriptures are teaching is true?”
Draco: pauses to think “We can know that the scriptures are true by praying about them and receiving a confirmation from the Holy Ghost.”
The Dragon: “But look- you’ve already fallen into circular reasoning. Your argument is invalid; you say that you know but in reality you only believe and call it knowing. Your sense of knowledge of religious truths is an illusion.”

In case you missed The Dragon’s criticism, here’s another example:
Some one gets up in sacrament meeting and says (like so many of us members say), “I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that the church is true.” When he says “by the power of the Holy Ghost” he of course means that he has felt some spiritual feeling or divine assurance. So we could ask this person how he can trust that what the “power of the spirit” supposedly reveals to him is true. Here, some people will get confused and say something banal like, “I just know” and feel appeased in their minds that this is a sufficient answer. With some prodding, however, most will eventually say “because the scriptures [or some other authority] says so” or “because that’s the way God speaks to us.” Then we can ask him how he knows that the scriptures or the prophet is telling the truth or how he knows that this is God’s manner of communication. He is forced to, unless he can provide outward empirical evidence (which, according to church doctrine, has a lesser value that inward spiritual evidence), use his first premise as his conclusion- “by the power of the Holy Ghost.” If a testimony is based on personal spiritual experiences, one can never arrive at knowing with surety- he can only claim a firm belief. The Dragon would also say that people want to know the truth so badly, that they find ways to assign truth to any set of beliefs. They contrive and interpret their feelings to mean that they have found truth so that they can find reassurance in knowing- in being right. After all, who likes to live in doubt? But let’s get back to the dialogue:

The Dragon: “You said that Satan cannot falsify feelings of the Holy Ghost, correct?”
Draco: “There are certain feelings that Satan cannot imitate- they come only from God.”
The Dragon: “Then what is ‘carnal security’ and what is ‘false hope’? Are not these falsifications of the peace and assurance to which you cling? If a force in opposition to God can provide imitations of feelings, then how can we trust our feelings alone to confirm truth? I might feel peaceful about pursuing a homosexual lifestyle and have hope in my future with that pursuit. How can God expect me to recognize the difference?”
Draco: “Well, the scriptures and the leaders of the church teach us how to distinguish between the two.”
The Dragon: “Ah, but how can you trust these authorities? Once more you have wrapped yourself in a circle. All that you have done is to choose to believe what you want to believe and put faith in those beliefs. It is comforting to say- empowering for you to say- that you have reasons to believe, that is, your feelings and your authoritative sources. But these reasons are only parts of circular reasoning which can never prove any truths. The only reason you favor one religion over another- or over atheism for that matter- is because you want to believe it. You have faith, but you cannot obtain knowledge in the manner which you have explained. There is no escaping your circle. Your “testimony” is simply a list of things that you have chosen to believe, but you do not know them.
Draco: “If that’s true, then why do so many people say that they know just as I do?”
The Dragon: “There is safety in numbers. It is much easier to convince yourself that some religious principle is truth if many others ascribe to it. But they only know from their own personal spiritual experiences which I have already shown to be inadequate for proving truths. Their knowledge is also illusory. A tomato will never be a vegetable no matter how many times people call it a vegetable.”

Perhaps people will say that I shouldn’t meddle into these kinds of questions- that I’m setting myself up for apostasy and reasoning my way out of truth, or maybe placing my reason above God’s wisdom. So then am I supposed to be satisfied with doubt? Or what if what we call “God’s wisdom” only consists of the ideas that we assign to him based on what we think we know, while his real wisdom lies outside our orthodox sphere of ideas. Based on the Dragon’s argument, all I can do is to choose to have faith or not to have faith (or at least to have faith in other doctrines) depending on what I want to believe. I can contrive or interpret my spiritual experiences to point me either way.

I realize that thus far I have been fairly one-sided in my blogging, so maybe next time I’ll flip things around so that I’m looking at all these issues objectively. After all, objective reasoning was part of what led me to baptism in the first place (the other part was obviously faith).

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” -Thomas Aquinas


forever barred said...

I have a few- alright a lot of- things that I'd like to say in response to what I have read here, but I am leery of putting them into print.

socal said...

Faith is not something that you can prove or attempt to prove intellectually. While these philosophical are interesting to ask, I would not even try to attempt to prove through logic and intellectualism how I feel or believe that the Spirit communicates with me. Attempting to prove the Spirit is communicating with you through logic will, as stated in this dragon analogy, wonly result in circular reasoning.

If I were to flip it, try to figure out or prove why someone is gay. I can go into circular reasoning with that too. Why is he gay? Because he is sexually attracted to men. Why is he sexually attracted to men? Because he is gay. I think you can find circular reasoning in many facets of life that are difficult to explain.

Brady said...

I really like these arguments. They are very interesting and thought-provoking.

So then am I supposed to be satisfied with doubt?
I think the better way to look at this is, 'can you be satisfied with faith?'

For the most part I would also agree that faith is a choice, and that most people believe because they want to (and generally they find evidence to support their belief). But I have had very powerful spiritual experiences in my life as well that have taught me, if nothing else, that God does exist and that by obeying certain precepts we are more likely to find happiness in life.

biggins said...

I like these questions too, and I guess my "apologist" response would be to say that when I am doing what "God" wants me to, I am happier, and if the devil is the one trying to make me happy, then he is God. My definition of God is one who imparts true, lasting joy. The devil, though he certainly tries to sell us cheap imitations of happiness, tries in the end to make us unhappy. I understand that "happiness" is subjective, and perhaps it's only because of guilt imposed by the things I've been taught that make me feel bad about myself when I "sin," but I feel like it's something much deeper. I really cannot deny that I am genuinely more comfortable with life and myself and everything when I'm on the gospel path. And then, when those good feelings we call the Holy Ghost are associated with that kind of lasting happiness, I can be confident and even know that they come from God.

And yet, your questions still trouble me. I'll have to think some more on this one :)

Potentate said...

Y''know, from what Ive gathered of gospel doctrine, knowledge isn't supposed to come for a long, long time. Most of the people who say 'I know' in sacrament meeting are not quite being honest with themselves.

All we really have to go on is feeling and logic. Since logic has never made a definitive argument for or against God (or any specific church) that I know of, that leaves feeling.

So you learn about your feelings. Learn to trust them, or not, depending on whether they make you happy.

. . . After you've decided on a tentative definition for 'happy,' of course.

Falula said...

you know where my response careful.

draco said...

No worries everyone- I'll make my next post more faith promoting! Thanks for your feedback!