Monday, January 14, 2008

Oh Say What is Truth?

I had another thought provoking conversation with Luisa recently about the nature of religious truths. We pondered and laughed and I think Luisa even cried a little, and in the end we were both a bit dizzy- you can only philosophize so much before your brain starts aching- but we were able to talk out some interesting ideas. Here is some of what we discussed:

There is a difference between truth and Truth. The first refers to that which a group or an individual person may believe to be veridical, and the second with a capital-T indicates actuality- ideas that are True for all people. The first big question is: How can a person know that some religious truth (Mormonism for example) is Truth? How can we know for sure for sure for sure that the LDS faith is True and that all other faiths may be true, but not True? The answer is that you can’t know for sure (see my previous post “Do you know what I know?). Well if I can’t know for sure, does it matter what religious position I take? I think it does. I think every person should choose that religion which, as William James explains, offers the most “live and momentous” option. That is, each person chooses to have faith in those beliefs which he feels are most probable and spiritual and those which will have the best impact on his life. In LDS theology, this would lead everyone to be a Mormon; but is it really the case that Mormonism is the best religious option for everyone? I don’t think it is. I have met many people who just can’t believe in Mormon doctrine. It doesn’t make sense to them, it doesn’t ring true for them, and some are even repulsed by some of our tenets, even after prayer and honest inquiry. My mother is a perfect example. She has prayed about her faith and sincerely feels that God has told her not to join the LDS church. And I don’t think she’s been deceived at all. I think she would feel out of place in our church and that it would not make her happy. The methodical Mormon way of life and worship, as beneficial and happy as it may be for some people, is not the kind of worship and religion that feels right and rings true to her or to BILLIONS of other people.

So here we are, a human race with countless different ideas about religious truth- all searching for absolute Truth and some claiming that their religion already represents absolute Truth. Millions of people pray to their God and testify to having received their own answer about which doctrines are right and which are wrong, and the answers they receive conflict with the answers that others receive. So who is right? Where is capital-T Truth among the tens of thousands of little-t truths? Maybe- just maybe- it doesn’t matter. Maybe the real Truth is that God is the source of all our varying creeds and doctrines. But God is only one God! He can’t give two opposing revelations! Well maybe God is a lot more open-minded than we are. Maybe he knows us so well that he has inspired thousands of religious ideas to accommodate for our varying personalities- so that we can choose those religious tenets that will best help us to worship, to come to know him, and to learn to love. Isn’t that what the Bible says? “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Galatians 5:14). So maybe finding ultimate religious Truth contained in only one religion is not terribly important because it doesn’t exist. Perhaps our task in life is instead to take faith in that which best helps us to become loving and compassionate people. Maybe it doesn’t matter if you’re gay, if you believe in a non-anthropomorphic deity, or if you pray through the Virgin Mary. We all claim different truths, but perhaps the only real religious Truth that we can really be sure of in this life is the necessity of learning to love and be loved.

Now if you’re a Mormon you probably disagree with me. But just stop and really think about it for a minute- why do you disagree with me? Is it because Mormonism has already made up your mind for you about it? Is it because you have proof that I am wrong? I think that all too often, we Mormons stop thinking for ourselves. Once we have our testimony that the church is true we get to stop asking a lot of questions. We call it faith but the rest of the world calls it indoctrination- believing dogmatically, blindly and with bias. If only we all could doubt for just a moment- open our mind and question things. Are we afraid to be wrong? Are we afraid of change? Are we afraid of being misled? We pick the last of the three questions, but how do we know we haven’t already been misled?

I think the LDS church is wonderful. For so many people it is the balm for religious aching. And I think some people need to feel that security of feeling like they have found the great absolute Truth. But isn’t it possible that God’s plan is more extensive than we believe it to be? When I began my religious quest almost 5 years ago, the first promise I made was to my mother; I promised her that I would never stop searching for Truth (or maybe it was just little-t truth- she didn’t specify). I think I found quite a bit of it in the LDS church, but I don’t think I have found what is wholly true for me nor what is a fullness of Truth with a capital T.


Scot said...

I promised her that I would never stop searching for Truth (or maybe it was just little-t truth- she didn’t specify). I think I found quite a bit of it in the LDS church, but I don’t think I have found what is wholly true for me nor what is a fullness of Truth with a capital T.

To me, Truth is a tricky thing. If a man tells me he’s certain that he possesses it, he may as well be telling me that he does not want it.

I’m glad you want it.

Calvin said...

What happens in the end, then? God pats everyone on the back and says, "Just kidding about the rules, guys. Everyone passes?" Or since some people know God doesn't exist, perhaps there's just a note that says, "You've reached the end," and everyone stands around being bored for the rest of eternity? Except will the people who think our existence ends at death stop existing?

P.S. So has Draco officially become the dragon, then? :)

draco said...

All very good questions Calvin :)
I can't pretend to know what God will do with us after this life- maybe we will find out that we all got it wrong to some degree. I do believe in eternity and I believe that love lasts forever. I also believe that there are inherently bad things that will merit punishment. But I'm comfortable not having all the answers.

Who knows? Maybe the afterlife will be different for each of us according to our beliefs- that sure would be interesting! Maybe I could finally have that pet unicorn I've always wanted... don't deny it! You know you want one too! And if there's just a note, I don't think we would get bored. We could play a couple of rounds of Apples to Apples and I would win, and then we could watch some reruns of Arrested Development. Or at the very least we could philosophize about who wrote the note.

As for my friend the Dragon... no, I haven't become the Dragon- I'm just flying around on his back defying gravity. It's an upgrade from the broomstick.

One of So Many said...

How's the road to Hell Draco? At least you get to see the sights.

Need a lift? I think I'm going there in a Ferrari most of the time...turbo charged. Everything out the window is just a blur. ;)

Neal said...


Taking your comments and leaving the Church out of it completely, you can't reconcile what you're saying with the teachings of Christ. If one goes through the new testament and focuses solely on the things Christ himself said, you will see he did not leave a lot of room for the casual application of religion or interpretation of truth. In fact he was pretty strict about it.

Matthew 7
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (please note strait = strict)

There aren't multiple "truths", but there are many "half-truths" or "almost truths" or "part of the truths". Your little "t"s don't add up, my friend.


Christopher said...

"By the power of the Holy Ghost you may know the truth of all things..."

I think it is possible to know what the truth is, without complicating the whole picture with big-T, little-t relationships and comparisons. But it takes much humilty and a willingness to abandon half-truths and happy lies. It's not something that is easy to do. It takes more than just curiosity. It takes a great deal of faith.

I have found that when I follow something that the spirit has told me to be true, (how did he tell me? he just told me) that truth has continued to shine brighter and has yielded more truth and understanding. There are alot of scriptures that talk about this process, but I like the one that says, "Intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence, etc..."

I think the opposite also holds. If something you believe in only confuses you and gets more complicated the more you think about it honestly and sincerely, you can be assured that it is not true.

Sorry for a church talk-y comment, but that's been my experience so far.

draco said...

You're missing what I'm saying Neal- I'm not just talking about Christianity when I'm talking about religion- I'm talking about all religious ideas.

But I do believe in Christ, so let's stick to Christianity. The problem is that you can’t leave the church out of your arguments. You're so fixed on accepting without question all that one religious idea tells you to accept (for instance, accepting LDS interpretations of the Bible and other scriptures as unarguably true), that you've closed yourself to other possibilities. You're stuck on the Mormon idea that the straight and narrow path in the scripture you mentioned equals following the gospel according to the LDS church. But I think it's much more likely that Christ was referring to following a path of love- that's a narrow path that's not easy to follow- it's so much easier (broad is the way) to feel hate, spite, anger, and jealousy than Christ-like love. This makes even more sense if you look at the verse right before the one you quoted: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." I think the LDS church sometimes projects it's doctrines into the scriptures and in doing so sometimes misses the real meaning.

And yes, there ARE multiple truths- when something is true for someone, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is True. A truth might contain parts of the Truth, yes- but the person who believes it still believes it to be wholly true and so it is a complete truth for that person. Please go back and reread the definitions.

As for truths adding up- I find plenty of ideas in the LDS church that don't ring true to me at all. But like I've said several times, I don't think there is any way to prove absolutely that one religious idea has more Truth than another- just more truth.

As always, thank you for your input. You keep me thinking, Neal :)

draco said...

Christopher- no need to apologize for a church-talky comment. Some church talks are really good :)

I don't think that the big-T little-t idea confuses things- I think it just describes religion in the world.

Other than that, I completely agree with your comment! Hooray!

biggins said...

I dunno, your point of view is really appealing to me on some counts, but it just doesn't add up in the end. For example, whether or not you worship an anthropomorphic deity is something you threw out as a little-t truth, and while I agree that sure it's conceivable that God might have inspired some people to think that way because it helps them to do good better than believing in a God in the shape of a human would, there still has to be one Truth out there in this regard. Either God has a body of flesh and bones, or he doesn't, right? Either there is a God who reigns supreme over our universe, or there isn't. One might argue that it doesn't matter which it ends up being, but it does have to be one of them as far as I can tell.

I'm not 100% comfortable with the idea that Mormonism is right for everyone right now. I could go along with the idea that other religions are better fits for people here in this life, like stepping stones, but I believe there is an ultimate Truth, an absolute, that we have to find (eventually, i.e. in the eternities). I don't put Mormonism (the organization) forward as that ultimate destination, but I think it is the one that gets us closest to it of all the religions that we have here on Earth.

p.s. my favorite quote from this post is "Once we have our testimony that the church is true we get to stop asking a lot of questions. We call it faith but the rest of the world calls it indoctrination- believing dogmatically, blindly and with bias." I am glad that you are thinking, and even if I believed you were getting it all wrong (which I don't), I think just actively searching would be a better use of time than sitting unthinkingly in the presence of God himself.

draco said...

biggins- Maybe one of the biggest tests of humility then is to accept the idea that we may not always be right about everything in terms of our religious ideas. I think our need to be right can sometimes get in the way of becoming good and loving people. I can just imagine us all letting out a big "Ohhhhh" of understanding when we leave this life and find out that nobody had it all right.
I agree that the Mormon church is wonderful in many aspects. Whether or not it is the "best" religion- like I said- there are billions of people who have found better ways to find spirituality that work for them.
However, I think religious exclusivism (which seems to be an inherent part of Mormonism) is ugly. I've seen it from the start- as much we Mormons say that we respect other religions, we are so convinced that we are right and they are wrong that we belittle their faith and doctrines- we say their beliefs don't make sense (which is a nice way to say that a person would have to be foolish to believe them). We pity people of other religions and I HATE pity. We talk down about them because we are the enlightened ones and they are the poor misguided ignorant ones. Come, let us add to the faith you already have (because ours is better and your's isn't good enough). We encourage other people to investigate our church- to pray sincerely about it- but how often do Mormons sincerely investigate other faiths? Oh- we don't need to do that because we already know that we are right and they are wrong. This just sounds pretentious and bombastic to me! In the mission, all the other missionaries had a great time making fun of all the apostate religions and I felt sick to my stomach laughing along sometimes. This is what religious exclusivism can do.

Sorry, I kind of got sidetracked :)
My point is that maybe we're all too caught up in trying to have an edge on truth over everyone else when all God really cares about is that we love one another. Christ taught unity- but it seems that everyone only wants unity under their own banner.

biggins said...

Draco, I agree that "exclusivity" often breeds ugliness. I remember arguing with one of my mission companions about whether or not other churches were founded by the devil--I was definitely against the idea. God doesn't want it to happen, I'm sure, but if there is one Truth out there then the people who are closer to it (or at least the ones who think they are) are going to end up being self-righteous about it sometimes, maybe a lot of the time. I agree that it's something we should fight, but I think it's an inevitable by-product of mortals looking for Truth.

The other option--your point of view that little-t truth is good and all we really need is to love each other--avoids this problem. However, I think that if a lot of people accepted this idea (a lot actually do, I suppose), other problems would/do arise. If Truth wasn't so vital, not everyone would be like you and still bother to look for it. I could see it breeding complacency, a "eh, I'm already good enough, why bother to improve myself" sort of attitude. Again, this doesn't have to happen and it doesn't seem like you have this attitude, but I think that in general people are lazy. Just as once we have a testimony we "get to stop asking questions", once we find out that truth is completely relative we could do the same thing. Both are wrong.

So the point is, I pretty much agree 100% with your last comment. I just think that your post isn't a panacea for humans being petty. Both points of view have pros and cons, in my opinion, I tend towards mine because I feel I have good evidence that it is the way things are, but I certainly don't begrudge you yours. I am very glad you're a member of the church and I absolutely value these great ideas you bring to the table. Thanks!

draco said...

Thanks biggins :)
I think you're right- there will always be the people who are lazy and petty. There is no cure-all.

Just because I don't think that there is one religion that offers complete religious Truth doesn't mean that I don't think that there really are big-T spiritual Truths that everyone can learn. I gave the example of love- which if found and truly pursued excludes self-righteousness- but I believe that there are other general Truths out there to be discovered. What are they? That's what I'm still pursuing. ;)

I guess one of the main reasons that these ideas hit a chord with me is that it fits with my feelings about the nature of God.

Thank you again- your comments are insightful as always.

draco said...

An afterthought- even if there is no way to prove that any one religion is objectively better than another, it doesn't excuse us from pursuing that religious idea which is most live and momentous for us.

Skyhawk said...

Just a thought (and I will probably get hate mail for the rest of my life for sharing it on this post):

If you will set aside your religious beliefs, why not try to set aside your homosexual tendencies as well? Without any bias in your life, you will actually be free to search for the real Truth.

Or are you not willing to give that up, if it meant finding the Truth?

"He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." -Matthew 10:39

Neal said...


You wrote: "You're so fixed on accepting without question all that one religious idea tells you to accept (for instance, accepting LDS interpretations of the Bible and other scriptures as unarguably true), that you've closed yourself to other possibilities. You're stuck on the Mormon idea that the straight and narrow path in the scripture you mentioned equals following the gospel according to the LDS church."

My dear friend, nothing could be farther from the truth. I think this statement shows what YOU are fixed on - the idea that since the Church declares its doctrine with authority and decisiveness that those who believe are immediately closed-minded sheep being led about by the nose. Please be assured that as someone from a Protestant family living in the heart of the Bible Belt, I have attended more Churches than you can shake a stick at; been persecuted and challenged for my beliefs; seen more anti-Mormon literature and hear more arguments against Mormon teachings than you can possibly imagine. And I've been through my times of skepticism and doubt - more than one I assure you. So I have indeed looked at all these things with an open mind and open possibilities, my young Padawan. But I have always found answers to my questions. I have always found a witness of the Spirit that has led me back home time and again to the teachings of the Church. To the clarity of the doctrine. To the boldness of the testimony, and to the intelligence and congruancy underneath the message. The wishy-washy doctrine you're espousing is nothing like the clear, resounding message Christ delieverd, and which His Church delivers today. Both of those messages are/were delivered with Priesthood power, and powerful they are! None of the siren calls of worldly sects and "don't worry, be happy" religions can duplicate it. It is crystal clear. It is unmistakable. Perhaps you've just become hard of hearing?

Love ya,


draco said...

Well then Neal, it's clear that the LDS church is the most live and momentous religious option for you. You have found your truth and it makes you happy- really, that's great! I just wish that you wouldn't be so demeaning toward my beliefs. I promise I'm not just spouting- these are things I've been praying about and pondering sincerely. And to be honest, your belittling comments only brew up more disenchantment. So please be careful with your splashing! I don't want to melt!

draco said...

And skyhawk- you still haven't called me back. And I like your new blog! :)

I'm not setting aside all of my religious beliefs- there are still lots of things that I believe.

As for my homosexual tendencies- well I tried setting them aside for four years. I guess it's hard to set aside something that's just built in. But I'll make you a deal- I'll set them aside just as soon as you set aside your heterosexual tendencies ;)

Skyhawk said...

There is a difference....I don't need to set aside what I feel (religious or emotional/romantic tendencies), because I believe I have the Truth and that the Lord is leading me along.

My comment was to simply point out: if you find the Truth, and that Truth is contrary to your feelings, are you willing to give that up to follow it? It's a really good question....if you are willing to give up the religion that changed your life entirely, a path that required you give up almost everything you had at one point in your life...are you willing to give up everything else too? This is my question.

And yes, I'm going to call you back. I am a slacker ;)

draco said...

Let me quote my last post:

"And I got answers! -answers that I believe wholeheartedly to be divinely inspired truths. Maybe one day I will share them. I will say that I am sure that God is leading me along and that He has great plans for me."

I'm not pulling a Rene Descartes here.

Neal said...

I know what you're really searching for, Draco - my RUBY SLIPPERS!!


draco said...

And your little dog too!