Church Vernacular and the Magical Worldview

It is Sunday, and Mike and his new bride, Valerie, are up visiting Mike’s family for the weekend. Mike is a physics major and has just finished finals. He is looking forward to some much needed freedom, as well as catching up on neglected chores. Although Mike’s parents typically plant a garden each year, this time Valerie is particularly interested in harvesting her own set of vegetables. The ground was prepared last weekend, but rain has prevented them from planting, and even more rain is in the forecast for the coming week. Now is the time to plant! Unfortunately, contrary to the weather forecast, it also rained yesterday. That means today, Sunday, is likely the only day Mike and Valerie will be able to get their vegetables planted.

But Mike is concerned. He wants to keep the Sabbath Day holy. He approaches his mother and asks “Mom, is it okay to plant the vegetables today, even though it’s Sunday”? “I think it’s okay, but you should do what you feel is right.” she responds. “Do you think the vegetables will grow okay? Do you think they’ll be safe for us to eat”? Mike asks innocently. “Why wouldn’t they be”? mom questions. “Well, because, you know, we’re planting them on Sunday”?

Mike’s mom smiles a little at this, but recognizing the innocent nature of the question responds “You know Mike, in today’s global economy there’s a good chance some of the vegetables you buy at the store were planted, nourished, or even harvested on Sunday. And yet they grew large and ripe, and you don’t get sick when you eat them.” Still a bit apprehensive, but feeling more confident, Mike and Valerie proceed to plant the garden on Sunday after church.

Mormonism has its roots in the magical worldview. While this worldview has been molded and shaped, and is admittedly less prominent than in times past, it still carries on in subtle ways. I admit that I shared this worldview, in similarly subtle ways, before my faith crisis. Perhaps some of this is nothing more than innocence of youth, or one’s choice of friends, or one’s longing to be a dedicated Saint, etc. But I think the language we use in church settings encourages this worldview, and sets our youth (and adults in many cases) up for disappointment, and disaffection.

Recently, in priesthood opening exercises, a councilor from the Stake Presidency was giving us a special message. The Stake Presidency had been in our ward that day, and we had already heard from the Stake President. The topic was missionary work, and the presidency was emphasizing the goals of our stake to share the Gospel with more people. Specifically, this particular goal was for each member to invite at least one person to hear the missionary discussions each month. The Stake President, in sacrament meeting, had recapitulated this goal, and testified he had, since stake conference (when the goals were set), met this goal. The councilor, in priesthood opening exercises, also had met this goal, but admitted all his invitations had been turned down. The councilor then said (paraphrasing) “I testify that as we live righteously, and strive to complete the goals our Stake President has set for us, the Lord will place people in our path who are ready to hear the Gospel.”

I think this type of promise is a fairly common one. We promise, and testify of many great things that will happen if we are obedient to God’s commandments. Paying tithing, keeping the Word of Wisdom, reading scriptures daily, all have associated promises from the Lord. Because the promised blessings are vague, however, if one obeys a commandment, they have license to claim anything they want as a direct blessing from God. It is certainly a valid claim that one has financial success because he/she paid tithing. This may or may not be supported by reality but the claim, at least according to scripture, is a valid one.

From D&C 130:

20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated-
21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

In logic, these scripture verses can be taken as sufficient and necessary conditions. That is, obtaining a blessing from God implies we obeyed the corresponding law.  And similarly, if we obey the law, we receive the blessing.  This works in the negative as well.  If we do not obey the law, we won’t get the blessing, and, worst of all, if we don’t get the blessing we didn’t obey the law.

These two verses, along with misinterpretations of “blessings” and “laws” upon which blessings are predicated, coupled with the vernacular of grand promises in our meetings, gives rise to the magical worldview.

Having said that, I actually think the solution to squelching the magical worldview (if it indeed ought to be squelched) is also found in those same verses. It is up to us to appropriately understand which laws are associated with any particular blessing. Financial success (blessing) is not predicated on tithing. Rather, it is based on making sound financial decisions, wise investment, saving, and thrift (law). Growing large, ripe, non-poisonous vegetables (blessing) is based on watering, healthy soil, proper sunlight, and other proper growing conditions (law). Additionally, spiritual growth, particularly in the Mormon context, may be predicated upon adherence to tithing, keeping the Sabbath Day holy, fasting, etc.

I think as we more closely scrutinize the blessings and associated laws, our tendency to make grand promises for physical life, predicated upon adherence to spiritual laws, will decrease, thereby diminishing the magical worldview.

What say you?  Is the magical worldview a setup for disappointment and/or disaffection?  What do you think causes it and what can be done to diminish its significance in the lives of people?

Comments

comments

32 comments for “Church Vernacular and the Magical Worldview

  1. GBSmith
    May 7, 2010 at 5:27 am

    I remember as an 18 year old being fearful I wouldn’t find a job on a Monday because I’d skipped church and went to a movie on Sunday. I got the job and learned that what I believed back then was closer to superstition than anything. The “law irrevocably decreed…” has always been a sore point for me because of what I feel are the harmful consequences that come from believing blessings are some sort of entitlement. I know it can be spun in ways to make it more palatable but I doubt any of that was in Joseph Smith’s mind when he wrote it but that’s another matter. Great post.

  2. May 7, 2010 at 7:11 am

    jmb — You begin with the comment that the magical worldview has its roots in Mormonism. As if Mormons are the only ones who ascribe blessings to obedience? I guess I have a hard time getting past that assumption.

    While I agree that whether we plant on Sunday or Saturday or Thursday (all days “sabbath” days for Mormons depending where they live in the world) will likely not change the quality of the produce, there are plenty of Latter-day Saints and other people of faith who will attribute blessings for keeping their Sabbath Day holy. Mike’s mother is correct that we each will make decisions about how to keep of Sabbath holy. The Lord will determine what blessing is associated with keeping that law.

    The placing of prepared people in the paths of faithful, missionary-minded Latter-day Saints is a promise not unique to the counselor in the stake presidency you cite. It is inferred by many from the reading of modern revelation (like D&C 4).

    King Benjamin teaches a different spin on the same principle articulated in D&C 130 (and in D&C 82:10) when he reminds his people that as soon as we keep a commandment we’re instantly blessed. That we may not see a tangible blessing immediately ought to clue us in to the fact that WE don’t get to pick the blessing.

    I think broadly you’re correct: expecting wealth because we pay our tithing is likely a misreading of Malachi 4. As is expecting huge tomatoes just because we plant them on a Tuesday. But those misguided expectations do not negate the reality that there are blessings for paying tithing, and there are blessings for keeping the Sabbath.

  3. Dave P.
    May 7, 2010 at 7:28 am

    I’ve found I often do my best pondering and receiving the greatest insights on Sundays, while at church, and studying my scriptures inside the empty chapel rather than attending Sunday School.

  4. jmb275
    May 7, 2010 at 7:51 am

    Re Paul

    You begin with the comment that the magical worldview has its roots in Mormonism. As if Mormons are the only ones who ascribe blessings to obedience?

    Ah, sorry. Yes, I see how this is misleading. That’s not what I meant at all. I meant that Mormonism has its roots in the magical worldview. My mistake. I’ll correct that.

    But those misguided expectations do not negate the reality that there are blessings for paying tithing, and there are blessings for keeping the Sabbath.

    For the record, I did not say there were no blessings for keeping those laws, but I challenge the assertion that reading one’s scriptures will place people prepared for the Gospel in my path.

    That we may not see a tangible blessing immediately ought to clue us in to the fact that WE don’t get to pick the blessing.

    Certainly. However, if one cannot identify the blessing, then one would surely be curious whether there is any blessing at all. Of course that option is not available for believing orthodox members.

  5. Mike S
    May 7, 2010 at 7:51 am

    I think it is a tremendous set-up for failure. I felt the same way growing up (ie. was taught the standard lines). As life progresses, good and bad things are going to happen, regardless of what we do. If we think that all the good comes from God and all the bad comes because we did something specific wrong, I think we are setting ourselves up for failure. This mindset nearly destroyed me when a major crisis happened in my life at a time when I was perhaps the most “spiritual” and working the hardest for the Church. Luckily, the crisis of faith that occurred did cause me to break out of that mindset and I found a whole new world of ideas and possibilities.

    True peace can be found by accepting that good and bad are simply going to happen. We can’t understand God. We can’t understand why things happen. We just need to learn to be at peace, accepting the bad because it will inevitably happen, and not clinging to the good, as it will inevitably be gone. My life is much happier now and I am much more resilient.

  6. Ren
    May 7, 2010 at 7:58 am

    I think like many things, it’s rooted in a bit of truth. That truth in my opinion is nothing to do with God but is self fulfilling prophecy. If Mike plants plants his vegetables but still has misgivings, he’ll likely end up doing things like watering and fertilizing the garden too much, thus producing a bad harvest, and then he’ll consider it the repercussion for planting on the Sabbath.

  7. May 7, 2010 at 8:28 am

    #3 Dave P — I heard Elder Packer teach in a PH Ldrshp mtg that the best time of church (except for the actual ordinance of the sacrament) is during the prelude to sacrament meeting.

  8. May 7, 2010 at 8:32 am

    #4 — So, on the one hand, we cannot ascribe a blessing to an action without invoking the magical worldview. On the other since we cannot see a blessing we should assume none exists? Doesn’t sound like much of a life of faith to me. Nor does it mirror my own experience in which I have recognized some specific blessings, some happy coincidences but mostly a broad arc of peace that has grown out of my faithful observance.

  9. May 7, 2010 at 8:46 am

    RE: #8

    “So, on the one hand, we cannot ascribe a blessing to an action without invoking the magical worldview. On the other since we cannot see a blessing we should assume none exists? Doesn’t sound like much of a life of faith to me.”

    Expecting a blessing because you think you’ve kept a commandment doesn’t seem like faith to me at all. That’s just buying and selling. The quicker people start doing the right thing for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do and without expectation of a reward, the better off we’ll all be.

  10. May 7, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Reinhold Niebuhr: “Both kinds of faith are wrong. First, that if we pray to God fervently enough he will establish some special security for us against the security of the other person. Or secondly, the belief that there are simple moral correlations between the vast processes either of nature or of history and human virtue.”

    That phrase, “simple moral correlations” has haunted me since I first read the above quote. There is some evidence, it appears, that adherence to the covenants secures special blessings for us; this ignores the fact that we only hear of the exceptional cases, and so have a bad sample space. Faith in God is not a talisman against disaster, although I am afraid I too often treat it that way. The “Drawing on the Powers of Heaven” model of righteousness is unstable and looks beyond the mark of simply fulfilling the covenants one has already made. I like Paul’s phrase—the “broad arc of peace that has grown out of my faithful observance.”

  11. May 7, 2010 at 9:51 am

    #9 GB — I think you and I agree. I did not mean to suggest a horsetrading of obedience for blessings, but rather an acknowledgement of blessings after the fact when we observe them (that is, gratitude).

    I remember a German brother in the last branch I served in on my mission who suggested that if we obey, we should be able to “pound our fist on the table and demand a blessing!” King Benjamin would suggest, I think, that the fist pounding was not necessary as the blessing would already have come to us by then. (The blessing of peace, however, might have been lost in our fist-pounding.)

    I’m inclined also to pass on the “Drawing on the Powers of Heaven” contract as described by #10 Neal. (I served my mission before that book was published, so I have never read it.) I tend to think that Nephi was unique in his position of having every righteous desire granted, including the ability to move mountains (though we have no record that he ever did that).

    That said, there is something to be said for leading a righteous life to be open to God’s influence in our lives. Not sure if that “drawing on the power” or “opening oneself to the power” of heaven.

  12. May 7, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Re Paul

    So, on the one hand, we cannot ascribe a blessing to an action without invoking the magical worldview.

    No, you can do whatever you want. You can assign whatever causal relationships you want. Personally, I tend to follow a more physical view. If I kick a ball, it will move. The cause was the force I exerted on the ball (according to Newtonian physics). Should you want to assume that it was because of an act of God that’s fair, it just doesn’t work for me. I know this is an extreme example because of the physicality of the ball and my foot hitting it, but the principal is the same. If a person is converted to the Gospel I will first assume that this person has the personality type that is receptive to spiritual manifestations. I will also assume that the missionary/member has said an appropriate set of words. I will also assume that natural events led to the missionary finding the individual. To me, none of this is evidence for or against God’s involvement, or the righteousness of the missionary. It just means I find natural explanations to causal relationships first and foremost.

    On the other since we cannot see a blessing we should assume none exists?

    Well that would just be stupid and I am nowhere advocating that. I’m saying that a reasonable individual might question. Again, if a soccer ball moves, without a person or object touching it, should I assume that God did it? Perhaps that is not the best explanation.

    For me the message I feel from many orthodox members is that if the cause/effect relationship is sufficiently complex, or not well understood, there is some justification for attributing the adherence of a spiritual law to the cause of the effect. If the cause/effect relationship is very simple, well understood (e.g. foot kicking soccer ball) then we realize it is completely physical and have no such tendency.

  13. Matt
    May 7, 2010 at 10:30 am

    I believe that God CAN intervene in our lives, and that in some limited circumstances He probably does, but after years and years of pondering am completely unable to articulate any framework for setting out the circumstances under which He might and the circumstances under which He might not. Here’s one very personal example:

    Four years ago, following the completely unexpected death of our youngest daughter, I had dinner with a close friend and his wife, both of whom are very active evangelical Christians and definitely not LDS. At the time I was unemployed (partially by choice, as I needed to take some time away from work after our daughter’s death). I’m an attorney with a reasonably impressive resume and work history, so wasn’t particularly agonizing about what I would do next, but still faced some uncertainty.

    At the end of our evening together my friend and his wife offered very sincere prayers asking God to make it very clear to me what the next step in my professional life should be. I won’t go into details, but within 24 hours I had received a very compelling job offer (arising out of an unsolicited phone call from a headhunter only a few days earlier). The offer included a very generous relocation package. After accepting the offer I sold my home in southern california within a week (after actively and repeatedly resisting allowing the buyer into our home because we thought it wasn’t ready to show). We were able to buy the only home in our new state in which our deceased daughter had ever stayed (long story). In short, door after door after door opened for us after that prayer.

    There were so many coincidences at that time that it seems irresponsible to deny that some kind of divine intervention occurred on our behalf in response to my friend’s prayer.

    But on the other hand, it seems presumptuous to believe that God would intervene on my behalf, when there are so many more deserving people with such greater needs. Presumably the people who bought my San Diego home (who had friends in our San Diego ward) felt they were led there in response to their prayers, yet that home has plummeted in value in the intervening four years. And why would God answer my friend’s prayer to help me find a job, but ignore mine to spare my daugther’s life — or at least allow her to regain consciousness so I could say goodbye?

    There’s a little more to the story. At the time of my daughter’s death I was teaching early-morning seminary. During that year I frequently questioned the wisdom of doing so, as it really was impacting me professionally (even though I loved the kids) and meant that I had no workout time at all. And yet I continued to teach (at least until my daugher passed away). It was one time in my life when I really felt I was sacrificing for the Gospel, and not only was I not blessed, I had my guts ripped out.

    Bottom line for me: I try to do what’s right, but I have no expectation that God will reward me for doing so . . . at least not in any immediately quantifiable way. And although there are times I still wonder if that’s denying myself of the opportunity to see God’s power in my life, I simply don’t know how else to look at the world.

  14. Mike S
    May 7, 2010 at 11:51 am

    #13 Matt: “It was one time in my life when I really felt I was sacrificing for the Gospel, and not only was I not blessed, I had my guts ripped out.”

    This line absolutely resonated with me. I had been a TBM my whole life, moving along and accepting the “magical worldview” talked about in the beginning of this post. I had never had an overwhelming “confirmation” that this was all true, but it’s how I was raised and it seemed to work for me.

    I was called to a very demanding leadership calling in the Church. It, too, required a lot of time away from my family on multiple days per week, etc. In my setting apart, I was specifically told that this was a calling that would require that time away from my family, but that the Lord would look over my family and protect them. So I went forward in faith. And guess what, just like you, I had an absolutely terrible experience. It nearly destroyed my family, my marriage, and me. And in my case, it was directly related to the calling. It was the worst time of my life and caused me to question literally my entire life, background, belief system, etc.

    At the end of it all, I am much more grounded, but I am much LESS “LDS” in my head. My “magical worldview” has dissipated. Good and bad will happen to me regardless of what I do. My focus now has absolutely nothing to do with blessings in this life or in the next, as I don’t really know what will happen tomorrow, the next year, or after I die. I can have hopes, etc., but really have no idea what will be. So my focus is entirely on being a good person, loving my family and my fellowman, taking care of the world and the people I encounter, etc. And whatever happens just happens and is fine with me, as I can’t control it anyway. Interestingly, this is a very Buddhist philosophy, but it has brought me much more peace than anything I found in the LDS faith.

    I’m still active LDS. I still have callings. I still read the BofM nearly every day (but some sort of scripture every day). I still have a temple recommend. I still use the good in the LDS faith to make me a better person. But it doesn’t have the “fear” grip on me anymore, thinking something “bad” will happen if I don’t cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’. And I don’t particularly expect my life to be any better or worse because of my membership in the LDS Church – it will just be what it is. I no longer know what God’s path is for me, but it’s more interesting to see what each day on that path might bring.

  15. May 7, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Re Matt and Mike S
    Thank you for sharing. Like both of you I have similar stories that I could share. My family has been haunted by psychological disorders for at least two decades. It was only recently (relatively) that I stopped buying into the idea that my afflicted family members could simply “pray them away.”

    One thing that strikes me however, is the commonality between difficult times, and questioning the value of the magical worldview. As long as everything is peachy, there is little questioning. But when things go awry, but we are still crossing out ‘t’s and dotting our ‘i’s, it brings this mentality into focus. I think, on the whole, most Mormons do not succumb to the idea that God inflicted tragedies upon us, or otherwise “allowed” them. In other words, when things go sour we have a tendency to view them as the results of agency, or natural events. But alternatively, when good things occur we quickly subscribe them to God blessing us. I think this perpetuates the magical worldview promises we hear so frequently.

    We are very eager to see patterns in the noise, but only when the good things happen. When the bad things happen we simply acknowledge the noise.

  16. May 7, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    I think it’s a fascinating idea. What you call the “magical worldview” could just as easily be called “superstition,” at least in the example cited of not eating vegetables planted on Sunday (in my case, if I planted them, they are going to be inedible whichever day of the week it was). I have always taken that kind of superstitious talk as an inside joke, something people say in a tongue in cheek manner – perhaps some people do not mean it this way (or take it this way). Perhaps I just come from a joking family. I think taking it seriously is not a good idea.

    It also brings up the idea of a personal God vs. a distant benevolent God. There is a certain arrogance in a personal God, but a distant God is not without its conceits. Great post, jmb!

  17. May 7, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I’m reminded of the Carlfred Broderick essay in which he describes some Primary celebration he attended in which the sisters in charge promised a temple marriage would lead to a life “happily ever after” (I’m oversimplifying the story; sorry). He (the the stake president) stood up and set the record straight, suggesting nobody gets a free ride, devoid of anguish or pain or trials or whatever we choose to call it.

    And yet, I suppose some lessons are best learned by experience. I know for me, my understanding of prayer and my relationship to God changed as I went through a period of personal hell. The experience did not draw me away from God, however. I think it helped me to understand him better and to change the way I thought of him, and the way I communicated with him.

  18. Matt
    May 7, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    @ JMB275 –

    Not sure whether you’re implying this or not, but just to be clear, it was not my daughter’s death that caused me to question the magical worldview. I realized many years ago that that was a model that just did not work for me. I’m sure many of us have heard horror stories like the one about the mother thanking God in a testimony meeting that her child was preserved in an automobile accident because of his/her worthiness (while the parents of another child killedin the same accident sat in the meeting). My issues started much more simply — I just realized that I could not reconcile a God who intervened in trivial matters in response to prayers (about finding lost car keys, for example) with a God who would permit the kind of suffering and injustice that we have seen in this world. To be clear, I don’t deny God’s existence — I think the best thing I can say is that I hope He lives — but I quit long ago trying to come up with a framework that explained His intervention, because I just couldn’t fathom it.

    I agree that the magical worldview has had a significant impact on Mormonism in general, and now that I think about it, I suppose I am attempting to “squelch” it to some degree in my children, while still trying to walk an appropriate line encouraging themto be faithful. Thanks for starting this conversation

  19. May 7, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    I think the problem with a magical worldview is not its accuracy, but its underlying motivation of trying to manipulate God (science can be similarly motivated toward nature, by the wat!)

    We need to get beyond pleasure –> blessing; pain –> no blessing. Experiencing ALL of life, pleasurable and painful is blessing. It’s what God chooses for Himself, even if it means weeping over creation.

  20. Thomas
    May 7, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    I believe that God does intervene in history — but only in a manner by which he can preserve “plausible deniability.” If miracles were frequent & obvious enough that a reasonable person paying attention would conclude that divine intervention were more likely than not to be occurring, then this life would no longer be a test of our hearts, proving to God (or, more likely given God’s wisdom, to ourselves) that we love God and righteousness for their own sake. It would only show that we could be bought.

    For whatever the reason, it appears that living through a random, unjust heartless universe is a necessary condition for the kind of ultimate existence God wants us to experience. Faith is really nothing more or less than believing this — that the “broad arc” of a faithful life is ultimately worthwhile.

    The Latter-day Saint population is now large enough that, if the “magical” obedience = additional blessings thesis were correct, there ought to be statistically significant differences in the lives and fortunes of Mormons, above those of the Gentiles, that can’t be attributed solely to clean living and other mechanical means. If the stories in testimony meeting are correct, we ought to suffer from fewer airplane crashes and fatal car accidents, for example. As far as I can tell, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Even if the blessings that are said to follow obedience aren’t obviously identified, if the thesis that some kind of this-worldly good fortune is supposed to follow obedience, then it ought to show up in some overall superiority in Mormon fortunes to non-Mormons’. Again, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    From that, I conclude that about the only blessing one gets from obeying the uniquely Mormon aspects of the Gospel, is a strengthened faith in the gospel. That may be a sufficient blessing in itself. My own faith is certainly a precious blessing to me.

    While it may be possible for the Lord to sneak the odd one or two dramatic physical blessings into the world without spoiling the isolation of the experiment, I think that since it is critical that the just live by faith, as opposed to certain knowledge, there must always have to be a choice to interpret what comes to us as a divine blessing, or something ordinary. I choose to believe that certain experiences, thoughts and feelings are divinely sent — but I recognize the possibility that it could be coincidence, or neurons, or an undigested bit of beef. It’s not obvious — and so there is always the choice available to me not to believe. I think that’s how it has to be, if salvation is not to be just a simple purchase transaction.

    Finally, my disinclination to believe in literal, temporal blessings has been confirmed by my experience to the Word of Wisdom. I was keeping the Word of Wisdom absolutely flawlessly, and got a really nasty inflammation in my navel. I was expressly promised health there!

  21. SkepticTheist
    May 7, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    While I agree with the idea that physical causes have physical effects, which is essentially what you are saying in this post, I fundamentally disagree that God does not intervene on our behalf physically a great many times. I disagree that God does not intervene to turn circumstances towards our blessing, and conversely sometimes, to our cursing, depending on laws kept or broken. I know this through experience, and my experience says something different than what you are saying. On the other hand, you are right when you say that we can never attach a particular physical expectation for a certain blessing based on obedience to a certain law. The idea that there is NO spiritual intervention upon physical effects based on spiritual laws kept, on the other hand, is just wrong.

  22. May 7, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    There were so many coincidences at that time that it seems irresponsible to deny that some kind of divine intervention occurred on our behalf in response to my friend’s prayer.

    But on the other hand, it seems presumptuous to believe that God would intervene on my behalf, when there are so many more deserving people with such greater needs. Presumably the people who bought my San Diego home (who had friends in our San Diego ward) felt they were led there in response to their prayers, yet that home has plummeted in value in the intervening four years. And why would God answer my friend’s prayer to help me find a job, but ignore mine to spare my daugther’s life — or at least allow her to regain consciousness so I could say goodbye?

    Wish my story was as easy as yours. But we came to the same place before our tragedies but I quit long ago trying to come up with a framework that explained His intervention, because I just couldn’t fathom it.

  23. jmb275
    May 7, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Re 18 Matt
    Ah, I apologize. I think I was conflating your story with Mike S’s. I think we are in agreement.

    Re Thomas

    If miracles were frequent & obvious enough that a reasonable person paying attention would conclude that divine intervention were more likely than not to be occurring, then this life would no longer be a test of our hearts, proving to God (or, more likely given God’s wisdom, to ourselves) that we love God and righteousness for their own sake.

    Besides this statement I absolutely agree. But I’m not sure I buy this reasoning. Is it reasonable to believe that Joseph Smith suffered from a lack of a proper mortal test because he “knew” God existed and saw miracles? Would we not have to conclude that any and/or all miracle working prophets had therefore been bought? Even if all “reasonable” people saw the miracles and concluded they were from God (very unlikely IMHO) would this actually diminish the test of life? Would there not still be agency, natural calamities and all the other drama that causes us trials now? Besides that, if God’s purpose is for all of us to return to him, how does it not fit in the plan to make himself as easily knowable as possible? As long as there is no coercion, I see no contradiction to the great plan of happiness if miracles were in abundance. What of those of us for whom skepticism and doubt come more naturally than mysticism or other spiritual manifestions? Do we just have to make up the slack for these intrinsic shortcomings by just accepting such witnesses regardless of our lack of evidence?

    I think that since it is critical that the just live by faith, as opposed to certain knowledge, there must always have to be a choice to interpret what comes to us as a divine blessing, or something ordinary.

    From this we would also have to conclude that most Mormons (since they all “know” the church to be true) are not living by faith. I think the problem with this idea is that faith, knowledge, and evidence are not clearly defined and understood. If a faithful LDS accepts his spiritual manifestation as “evidence” thus convincing him to the point of certainty, how is that faith?

  24. jmb275
    May 7, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Re Hawkgrrrl

    I have always taken that kind of superstitious talk as an inside joke, something people say in a tongue in cheek manner – perhaps some people do not mean it this way (or take it this way).

    You clearly did not grow up in Utah! 😉 My example is a true story from my own family.

  25. Do You Like Worms?
    May 7, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    and then the plants got really big and carnivorous and ate Mike and Valerie.

  26. TRUTHSEEKER
    May 7, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Did anyone ever read the story of Joseph Smith? Everysingle great leader… Great Prophet has had great trials and difficulties in life… even if obedient.

  27. GBSmith
    May 8, 2010 at 10:27 am

    If you’re a believer, seeing God’s hand in you life is a natural thing but if you’re not it makes much more sense to assume that if there’s a God that he/she/it is far away and not involved. The problem of evil and suffering makes little to no sense if you believe in a personal god and to a non believer stories about good fortune, blessings and prayers answered are just anecdotes that we chose to interpret a certain way because we see ourselves as special of deserving. People may see God as a loving father that knows us individually and personally and seeks only what in his wisdom is best for us. But we deal and attempt to interact with him as people always have, as a subject to a monarch or king, not as the ideal parent. We plead and abase ourselves, we do things to get his attention and try to have him lend us his ear and bestow his special favor and reward all the while hoping we won’t offend him and bring on us his wrath and righteous indignation. For me it’s much easier to see him as far away and not involved with no clear recollection of who or what I am.

  28. dmac
    May 9, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    “Having said that, I actually think the solution to squelching the magical worldview ….is also found in those same verses. It is up to us to appropriately understand which laws are associated with any particular blessing.”

    I think this portion of the OP is significant. How do we know what those ‘laws’ are? Or which blessings we are likely to receive?

    The ‘magical worldview’ never worked for me. I believe, as stated by GB and Paul, in doing the right thing – for no other reason than it is right. It’s a foundation I try to build on. The joys and personal growth I experience help strengthen my faith in my fellow man, in God and make me feel of value. And anything that comes my way that could be seen as a blessing, I’ll accept it without regard as to ‘if’ or ‘why’. It just is.

  29. Rich
    May 9, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Dave P. (3) – “I’ve found I often do my best pondering and receiving the greatest insights on Sundays, while at church, and studying my scriptures inside the empty chapel rather than attending Sunday School.”

    Dave, go to Sunday School class. There are times I’d, also, rather be somewhere else than in my Sunday School class. You probably shouldn’t get the idea because you’re getting insights in an empty chapel when your Sunday School class is going on that the Lord supports what you’re doing, even though it’s through him that you’re getting those impressions.

    Think about it this way. If you don’t attend Sunday School class, then you’re not there!! Dave, you are your bothers keeper. The Lord has assigned a space of time for Sunday School class and you are a member of that class and it’s possible he could use your help in that class.

  30. Hawkgrrrl
    May 9, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Hmmm. I kind of think that having a more personal view of God is probably a good thing – because it makes life easier, it makes sacrifices feel more worthwhile, it is humbling. It’s only a perspective right? I wonder how hard it is to shift from viewing God as distant to seeing his hand in all things?

  31. S.
    May 10, 2010 at 2:56 am

    Interesting discussion on a great post. Many different views, yet threads of similarity seems to run throughout. As a family member of Mike and his new wife Valerie (names changed to protect the innocent) I would like to add some clarity.

    The statements made to Mike were not meant to persuade him to plant or not plant on Sunday. They were made to promote thinking for himself, making a decision he could live with, and then getting on with it. This may seem trivial to some of you, but it was not to him. He was torn between his concept of obedience and doing what he wanted to do. This is something I dare say most of us struggle with daily. As I look at it, I see the good that came from his decision, and it would have been good whichever way he chose…I will not expound on this.

    Putting on our belief systems, one leg at a time, and walking around in them to see how they fit, can be a very difficult and revealing process. It takes courage to even embark on the journey, as most of you know. For Mike, this was growth. I consider growth a blessing.

    Re dmac #28
    And anything that comes my way that could be seen as a blessing, I’ll accept it without regard as to ‘if’ or ‘why’. It just is.

    I appreciate your statement. My husband and I were given medical information years ago that was difficult to deal with. Our bishop had us come in and asked how we were coping. He told us many people say “why me” when these things occur. I remember thinking, “If I don’t say why me to all the good that comes, how can I say why me to the things I don’t understand.” It simply is what it is.

  32. Thomas
    May 10, 2010 at 11:24 am

    Jmb@#23:

    “We have to prove we love truth and righteousness for their own sake, not just that we can be bought” is more my speculation of the “why” God does not, in my experience, consistently or obviously intervene physically in history, than a final answer. All I know — again, based on my own experience, which SkepticTheist reminds me to trust over anyone else’s — is that I do not see such manifest examples of the hand of God intervening in the physical world. People of faith may choose to interpret remarkable coincidences, extraordinary mystical experiences, or the like as divine interventions, but if they are honest, they must at least consider the possibility that there is nothing more going on than biology, chemistry and chance.

    On the cross, Christ called out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Much has been written about the meaning of that cry. I personally believe that for a moment, Christ experienced what all of us experience — the terrifying prospect that “when a man was dead, that was the end thereof.”

    I was at the funeral service for Matt’s daughter, mentioned above. The gospel is indeed a great comfort, but things like that are still completely shattering. Logically, they shouldn’t be. We know the plan of salvation, that death is just one more box on the flowchart, that mortality is such an infinitesimal flash of time between two eternities that mortal tragedies should barely even register. But of course we just don’t feel that way. At those times, even the tiny possibility, neatly packed away on the shelf in the back of our mind, that Christ be not risen, comes surging through our defenses like a whale through a net, and insists that we notice it for a time.

    Because I have faith, I hope and trust that that awful possibility in the back of my mind is just a possibility. I can imagine the moment where that possibility is finally and thoroughly dispelled, and imagine myself laughing and crying with joy and relief and thankfulness. It may be that the wonder of that moment may be the reason that the Uncertainty has to persist through mortality (so that we could recognize the awesomeness of the Victory, by having known its opposite, as “it must needs be…in all things.”)

    Or the Lord may have an entirely different reason for structuring the universe as He did. I wasn’t present at the creation, and I don’t have any suggestions to offer for its better ordering. I just have to make sense of what I experience, and the above is the best this man can come up with at his halfway mark.

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