How do you interpret another’s faith?

AdamFCulture, diversity, doubt, faith, inter-faith, Mormon, testimony 21 Comments

The following are four approaches one can take when addressing another’s faith.*

Exclusivist – Believe in “the only true church.” Exclusivists may see the church or the restored gospel as the only means of salvation. They may not openly try to share the gospel with everyone, everywhere, but that is their goal. The most obvious members in this category often include “I know this is the only true church” in bearing their testimony. They may appear to be intolerant of other religions practices, or be accused of having an agenda in their relationships with non-members.

Rejectionist – Basic religious concepts (such as a creator) are denied, and religion is viewed as a crutch or a psychological defense. Rejectionists like to point out that spiritual experiences are invalid because they cannot be known objectively. They may have some disdain for religion and may think that we would be better off without religion because of all the conflict it has caused in the world.

Constructivist – Believe that everyone constructs their own meaning and reality even if there may not be an absolute truth. It is the quality of the other’s perspective that matters in the sense that it must be consistent and helpful in living and coping. This group may be comfortable talking about religion from another’s perspective, but may not necessarily believe that anyone has “the Truth” or that absolute truth in terms of religion is even knowable.

Pluralist – Believe in a spiritual reality or truth, but also believe that everyone interprets it differently, which allows for differences among religions and cultures. They are open to sharing their beliefs, but also open to the idea that they may not have it all. They like to quote Paul saying, “we see through a glass darkly.” They also like the story of the blind men and the elephant.

These approaches do not necessarily dictate whether someone is a believer or not. For example, not all atheists are rejectionists.

What approach do you have to the faith of others? Please click here to participate in a quick poll. Are these categories exclusive? Do we use them even amongst fellow members? How do we react to those who approach our faith from a different perspective?

*These are adapted from Incorporating Spirituality in Counseling and Psychotherapy, by Geri Miller.

Comments 21

  1. I voted pluralist, but I don’t feel that I am such to the exclusion of the other categories. I am also an exclusivist–I believe that all people have truth, even truth that we can learn a great deal from, but there is that little nagging issue of priesthood authority for the administration of ordinances.

    It would be interesting if we created a map and a deeper poll that allowed one’s co-ordinates to be plotted in this system.

  2. I can’t vote, because my view is a blend. I believe in one Truth that each have to find in their own way. I believe the Church is the only true church, but I can recognize that not all will find it in this life, and that God has an individual plan for each of us, which plan includes mercy and individual Spiritual guidance.

    I also believe that I can only truly choose my own path, and that each person has their own agency and ability to choose what will influence theirs.

  3. I am like 1 and 2, I am an Exclusivist and a Pluralist. I believe that there is one official church that God gave his authority to, but I think that many religions have a lot of truth in them and being a member of the true church doesn’t make you automatically more righteous or more spiritual than someone that is not.

  4. I used to be an exclusivist, but now I’m a pluralist. I suspect most church members would have a problem with anyone who isn’t an exclusivist. I’m much more open to other’s beliefs than I used to be.

  5. I voted constructivist. especially because of:

    It is the quality of the other’s perspective that matters in the sense that it must be consistent and helpful in living and coping.

    so, even on the days that I’m feeling rejectionist, I can usually say instead that I feel instead that the beliefs of others don’t seem consistent or helpful in their lives.

  6. I’m a pluralist with the caveat that I believe some religions are much better reflectors of the absolute truth than others. Some religions are much better than others. As an extreme example, take a religion that required human sacrifice in its rites. That would be a lower and more primitive religion than what we have today, (which in some cases is a ritualized reenactment of the sacrifice of a deity). Among religions in widespread practice today, there are teachings and doctrines which are higher or lower. I obviously think ours are the best, but still far from perfect. One of the best things about our religion is we’re open to change, line upon line, and precept upon precept. Thus, over time, our teachings can become perfected, even as the saints themselves are gradually perfected. Still, there are some teachings of other religions which are higher and better than ours. I think truth is available from everywhere. We should never be arrogant or dismissive, lest we miss an opportunity to learn something of importance.

  7. I always score smack dab in the middle of any personality or perspective test I take, and this is no exception. I am a pluralist at heart who believes in exclusive ordinal authority but universal accessibility to pretty much everything else. Iow, I believe the core principles that underlie the LDS Church are absolutely critical to a fuller understanding of God, but I also believe God speaks and works with all His children who will turn to Him – no matter what they call Him or how they envision Him in doing so.

  8. I suppose I was once an Exclusivist, not in the sense that I was ever intolerant of other religions, but definitely in the “this is the ONLY true church” sense. But now it’s the only category that I don’t identify with. Like Ray, I’ve always been a difficult personality to categorize because I often identify with all, but at the same time usually have an aversion to all as well.

    Had I not been raised in the Church by the parents that I have, been given the experiences I have been given, I would have very likely leaned strongly towards Rejectionism. Rejectionists like to point out that spiritual experiences are invalid because they cannot be known objectively. I find myself often fighting off the urge to do exactly that: invalidate the spiritual experiences of others because they can’t be known objectively or because they appear irrational to me. They may have some disdain for religion and may think that we would be better off without religion because of all the conflict it has caused in the world. I actually do have some (perhaps a lot) of disdain for religion (including my own) and I often think that the world would be better off without religion (or at least less of it). But my personal spiritual experiences, which I cannot invalidate or dismiss as pure coincidence, have been the counter-balance to my Rejectionist tendencies and therefore I do not feel comfortable as a true Rejectionist. The Constructivist definition also fits me quite well, except for the fact that I do believe there is an absolute truth. I’m just not sure that we have it as Mormons. At best, we perhaps have a portion of it. I suppose that I identify most with Pluralist.

    Perhaps I can best sum it up this way: I’m an ex-Exclusivist, somewhere in between Constructivist and Pluralist, with sometimes strong Rejectionist tendencies.

  9. I too am probably more of a Pluralist when I think of others’ faith, both within the church and outside of the church. What I think is fascinating about these categories is how they are applied in counseling or therapy. I would think that either Exclusionary or Rejectionist have the potential to be extremely harmful in counseling, although I am aware that many therapists tend to be Rejectionists, seeing religion as a crutch for co-dependent neurotics, and the church has probably had a tendency to only employ Exclusionists, perhaps to combat that anti-religious tendency.

    It would seem to me that the best approach for therapy would be either Constructivism (because it’s possible that someone in therapy does have some unhealthy religious connections or beliefs that need deconstruction) or Pluralism, although Pluralism might be a little too open-minded to be helpful to someone who is truly disfunctional (endless therapy, but hey, you’re billing so why not?).

  10. I’m for a mixture of exclusivist and pluralist. On the one hand, Mormonism is the only one true church only in so far as the Lord authorized it to be so, not that it contains all truth. There is one truth, but everyone interprets it differently, including Mormons themselves. All will eventually have to accept or reject the ordinances that God has *authorized*, either here or in the afterlife, through Mormonism regardless of Mormonism’s truth claims or historicity claims. The claim of authority is much different than a claim of truth. It is authority where Mormonism is exclusivist. This is why people that get hung up on historicity claims are barking up the wrong tree, because the issue with Mormonism really is about its authority, not about its doctrine, nor about the historicity of its fish tales.

  11. I don’t think that any of the categories fit reality. The “Body of Christ” is much larger than the faith community. God builds galactic clusters (and probably multiverses), and even a “one true church” is a pretty tiny piece of God’s work. If we aren’t sure where to fit in Catholicism or Orthodoxy, let alone Hinduism or Islam, what hope do we have of declaring where some civilization made of sentient pack-hunting raptors in some galaxy “long ago and far away” with entirely different mental constructs fits?

    So let’s be faithful to what we understand and seek further guidance. It’s a cliche, but it’s all we’ve got.

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    Oh gosh, the sentient pack-hunting raptors are definitely cooler than just the galactic clusters!

    Really though, I’m not sure what you mean by “fitting reality.” The categories are how one may approach the faith of another, because it does seem to be a “reality” that some people do reject all faith. Some reject the authority of any faith but their own. Some think faith may be good, but that it is made up. Some think we all have a piece. And from the comments here, it seems that some feel like a mixture.

    As for the orientation of a therapist, as Hawk mentioned above, it can be quite important. Basically, some argue that it is unethical to practice as a rejectionist or an exclusivist, unless the client has the same view, or the client is aware up front of the therapist’s stance, and does not care, otherwise you have therapists working against the wishes of the client, even if it is not intentional.

  14. AdamF – does the church have a tendency to refer members to Exclusivists? I’ve got mixed anecdotal data on this. I have heard that a church-referred therapist is never to suggest divorce, but I’m aware of more than one case in which they did. I have heard that the church-referred therapists have to toe the line with referred members on faith matters, suggesting things like prayer and faith to combat sexual urges, depression, etc., but I am aware from many friends who underwent therapy at BYU that the counselors used many cutting edge, open-minded approaches and were not at all Exclusivists. Is all this good therapy on the down low?

  15. Adam F: Sorry, I’m a physicist by training, and a 3rd generation Community of Christ member in upbringing. So my perspective is perhaps unusual on this blog.

    What I was trying to say is that our views of reality are too small. Our understandings of theology have to extrapolate well to cosmic scales or they are not likely to be right. The vision of Moses that Joseph Smith included in his translation of the “Inspired Version” with its “many earths” shows how different “reality” may be from how we normally picture it, and we should not be bound by the limits of our, 19th Century American, or 1st Century MesoAmerican/Mediterranean language to describe the reality God is revealing to us by whatever means it comes.

    It becomes even harder to relate to other non-Mormon Christian religions, all of which have grafted (to greater or lesser extent) findings of secular disciplines and cultural trends onto a core of understandings from a 3000-4000 year old Judao-Christian culture. Think about how hard the American Christian left and right struggle to incorporate evolution into their understandings of theology, and that is 150-year old science.

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    Hawk – as far as I know, the church only refers members to LDS Family Services, but perhaps they have to look elsewhere if that is not an option. I would assume that most therapists there are exlusivists, but who knows? As for “not suggesting divorce,” I personally never (well, never say never!) try to lead a client to a particular decision that they don’t want to get to. However, if an LDS couple ultimately WANTED to divorce, I would help them do it as peacefully as possible. I can’t imagine what it would be like to work for an agency that dictated whether I could explore divorce as an option or not. Then again, I work for a Christian-based agency, and we aren’t allowed to discuss birth control or abortion, but there are ways around that, *wink*.

    As for sexual urges and etc., my approach, whether with an LDS client or not, would always be to explore how the client was affected by their choices, and I would definitely take their beliefs and culture into account. A good therapist, LDS or not, should not be the judge of what is “righteous” behavior, nor offering a set of spiritual techniques to overcome temptation, but rather be a safe haven for the client to explore themselves, and a secure base from which to learn and grow. I would leave the judgment of “proper” conduct up to the bishop.

    FireTag – Your perspective is welcome! 🙂 I agree, we are limited in our views, and that’s why I’m a pluralist in the pragmatic sense.

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    JDD – I’m more of a pluralist with exclusivist tendencies. 😉

    Andrew S – You have found your mission–to build up the constructivist group in Mormonism! 🙂

  18. I’m very late coming to this thread, but AdamF refers to it on today’s post (7/17/09)

    @Andrew S
    I also am a constructivist.

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