How Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris Got it Wrong — And Right

John Dehlin Mormon 39 Comments

Man I love this article.

It’s an interview with a Harvard Psychiatrist and Director of Harvard’s “Study of Adult Development” — discussing the importance and healthiness of religion.  I won’t dare tell you what magazine it comes from.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“Until you had religion that said love and compassion were more important than sacrifice, guilt, and fear-it wasn’t until you had that, that any city could survive. All of the world’s great cities self-destructed until you had this shift in how you used religion-from ritually supporting negative emotion to ritually supporting positive emotion.”

“Positive emotions work better than negative emotions in an evolutionary sense. The forgiveness of the Marshall Plan led to a much safer Europe than the retributive justice of the Versailles Treaty. Ideas supported by positive emotions have a survival power that ideas built on negative or greedy emotions don’t. And yet you have to be patient to see this.”

“Of course we can blow ourselves up, or global warm ourselves out of existence. But I think without any question the world is evolving toward the good. In Europe the homicide rate in the late 20th century was 2 percent of what it was in the 13th century. Over two centuries, Europe’s approach to Africa has been to replace slave traders and empire-building evangelists with nongovernmental organizations like Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam. Only in the past century have nations – yes, even the U.S.- spent more of their gross domestic product on health care than on defense.”

“A friend of mine said that if Buddhism is too good to be true, the Enlightenment was too true to be good. But all joking aside, the realms of science and emotion, or science and religion, aren’t incompatible or at war with each other; they’re just in different parts of the brain.”

“Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris aren’t wrong in saying that religion is dangerous. Religion can be dangerous. But the rituals of the world’s great religions are the most reliable way to a conscious focus on positive emotion. It’s not unlike automobiles, according to Ralph Nader. Yes, cars are terrible, and they do awful things, but they’ve also been an immense boon to the world. The trick is learning to handle them better.”

Thoughts?

Comments

comments

Comments 39

  1. We look around and glorify all that our brain, our logic and our rational thought has accomplished — look at the toys we have! We are mighty, and there is nothing but the rational and material.

    The brain can not survive without a heart to pump blood to it. Humans are half irrational and spiritual. Religion is the tool to explore and describe that part of us. Science is the tool to explore and describe our other half. Religion can be dangerous. Science can be dangerous. I think both are individually more dangerous when not tempered by the good from the other.

    To deny our religious nature is to deny a fundamental part of our being and existence, and closes off half of our beauty and potential.

  2. It’s Perfecting the Saints. Religion is powerful (and yes, ORGANIZED religion is powerful) because not only does it attempt to explain the purpose of life and “how to get to Heaven.” It also creates practical systems and situations for living. It cements people together. It helps people understand other people. It creates unity and community. It gives us incentive to love one another. And I think the “truthfulness” of the Church and Christ’s Gospel hinges not on whether there were horses in America before Columbus… but on how the Church affects people. How it brings people together. How it causes me to love my neighbor. What are the fruits?

  3. Is this positive view of religion irrespective of a religion’s truth-claims being fictional? I mean, should we really going to adopt a positive view of religion if we find out that its fundamental truth-claims are not true? In the context of an LDS community, how is this not a kind of atheism and/or agnosticism and/or postmodernism under the veil of faithful Mormonism? Doesn’t this violate the principles of integrity?

  4. Not necessarily… I can believe everything in that article and also believe that Joseph Smith was truly who he says he was, and that Christ’s Atonement saves us from sin. It’s not Atheism under a veil of faithful Mormonism, at least not for me. It just gives me a practical bonus for my beliefs and a greater capacity to have compassion and empathy for the religious beliefs of others that I think are “wrong.”

  5. Aaron in #3:

    I think you just hit the nail on the head. This is exactly why religion can, for the VAST majority of the world, only have it’s power if you honestly believe it as part of a community. Once you decide that it’s just an evolutionary means of spreading goodness you lose it’s ability to make a difference for yourself.

    Of course one can always adopt a personal creed and receive some of the benefits, but the full benefits are impossible for most people (maybe even all people?) to have without believing the truth claims as part of a community.

    It’s possible for a rejectionist community to crop up that exists on the margins that rejects the truth claims of a religion, of course (as we see here all the time.) They can exist forever harvesting people that fall out of the main religion and they can build a community around their common rejection. But they, in reality, can only exist so long as the original religion exists for them to reject since that is the main thing they have in common and the only thing they can really build a community around. They are not an independent religion and they owe much — nearly all — to the religion they reject.

    I supposed the other option is to build a religion around a form of “religious pluralism” in which all truth claims of all religions are false, save the teachings. But ironically, this requires rejecting religious pluralism and building a community around the truth claim that all religions truth claims are false and that religious pluralism (or at least this form of it) is superior to all existing religions.

  6. Right, not necessarily so, but not necessary not so either. This “open view” of Mormonism’s “good-value” irrespective of the truthfulness of its fundamental claims seems to flock to primarily psychological and evolutionary and sociological views of religion. It seems to be a way of justifying continued involvement.

  7. I suppose we’re just viewing it from a different standpoint. For me, I read this: Adam got a Gospel that said “love thy neighbor,” then Moses got a law that was trying to guide people to “love thy neighbor,” then Christ taught “love thy neighbor.” Now an “expert” looks back and says, “Hey, there are practical, large-scale benefits to loving thy neighbor over long periods of time.” I still believe those truths came from God. Think about what Moroni said. He said, if you want to know the Book of Mormon is true, first remember how merciful the Lord has been to mankind from Adam all the way down to the present day. Basically, see which principles have been working out for people for thousands of years. Why do you think Moroni said that? Why is that such an overlooked part of the formula?

    I’m not saying ignore the foundational claims… but look at the foundational claims through the lens of the success of the practical, sociological, psychological, etc. benefits.

  8. Arthur, I would call that an “atheological” way of looking at things. I instead believe that a theological way of looking at things is the only way to be a devout Christian with integrity, because only then do we look at through the lens of the person of Jesus Christ. In other words, the second greatest commandment (to love others) should be seen through the lens of the greatest commandment (to love God with everything we have). This is what some of us Protestant call a “God-centered” or way of looking at things. The greatest “good” is knowing and enjoying God the Father and Jesus Christ. That is eternal life. The “horizontal” aspects of life, of loving other people and seeking their greatest welfare, flow from that, not the other way around.

    On a related note, the approach to religion that redefines truth to be what is “true for you” and reduces good to being primarily defined in psychological and/or sociological and/or evolutionary terms… is quite scary to me. It reminds me of Pontius Pilate who took a somewhat flippant approach to the value of truth. “What is truth?” etc.

    Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

  9. To the admin of this blog, I highly recommend installing something like this. It gives people like me a way to correct spelling, grammar, etc., on comments after we’ve posted them 🙂

  10. John, thanks, though you’ll probably have to tweak the settings to allow anonymous folks to edit their own comments under the settings. If you’re using WordPress 2.7, then it’d probably be here.

  11. “The greatest “good” is knowing and enjoying God the Father and Jesus Christ. That is eternal life.”

    Agreed, Aaron, and that is exactly what Mormonism teaches. You and I simply disagree about what form that takes, because we disagree about the very nature of God, the Father, and Jesus Christ.

    Great post, John.

  12. But Aaron… if we are to take this Gospel to others, and if we are to take Christ to those who don’t know Him… it would be hard to convince someone that “we need to start with Jesus Christ” if these people don’t know WHY they need Jesus Christ or even his nature or identity. If you’re preaching to the choir, then yes, we know that the fount of every blessing is Christ. But I’m saying that some people only have access to the streams that flow from it. I would go as far as saying we DON’T know God or Christ. What do they look like? What tone of voice do they have? Can you answer those questions? If not, then you only know them through their works, and the blessings you’ve seen in your life from them.

    I can’t teach my children (when I have them) to love Christ if I have an abusive home, or one not conducive to receiving Him. I can’t tell them to “start with Christ.” I show them my faith through my works, and teach them where those blessings come from. If our journey of faith started with Christ, then everyone on Earth would have access to Him as soon as they were born, and He would visit us periodically and come eat dinner with us and tell us personally He loves us, etc. But it doesn’t happen that way. A few billion people have lived in China without any knowledge of Christ whatsoever. Taking that into consideration, I think Christ leads people to Him, and will continue to lead people to Him, through an “atheological approach.”

    I speak by way of observation and practicality. I’ve seen many people around me in this life that were forced into Christian schools or grew up having been forced to go to Church. A lot of times it doesn’t do a bit of good. I remember some of the baddest kids I knew in town came from the Catholic High School (not to bash on Catholics, that’s not my point). My point is, when you talk to these kids they’ll say something like, “Yeah, they tried to get me to love Jesus or whatever but I don’t see the point.” See how that works (doesn’t work)? You can’t just tell someone to base their faith on an entity they don’t understand. The first great commandment is most important, but it starts with good principles. You start with the second commandment and build UP to the first commandment. Dig? Just my opinion of course.

  13. I think the religious impulse is built into most human beings in the same way as our impulse to love, to pair bond with another (in most cases heterosexually), to reproduce (in most cases), and to love and support our children. That the impulses are built in in a natural way(either instilled directly by God, or developed under God’s watch through evolutionary means, or evolved without any sort of God) does not definitively resolve the question whom we should love or mate with and it does not definitively resolve the question of who or how we should worship as a means of satisfying that religious impulse.

    In my own view, God works through all religions and peoples of all faiths–and I include within my understanding of religion and faith a person’s sense that there is no God (as understood by most other faith traditions) but that there are transcendent or important goods in life to be served. The belief may be incorrect, but I think God works through individuals with incorrect conceptions or Him or His existence all the time.

    That religious impulse, I think, is a form of the light of Christ, or akin to the light of Christ, and it is not restricted to humans who believe in Christ or even in a god as understood by most faith traditions.

    And I believe that part of the religious impulse, in most cases, involves the building or cohering of individuals together in faith communities–even the word “religion” has its origins in the Latin “religare” meaning to fasten or bind together.

    Thus, I am not puzzled, or disappointed, that God could leave His children without His truly authorized Church for centuries, or how it is that God created a world in which only a tiny fraction of His children are ever born into or introduced to His true religion. I believe that most of the important benefits of being part of the truly authorized Church are and have been available to all God’s children, whatever their situation in life or whenever they were born.

    I will descend from my soap box.

  14. Aren’t love and compassion almost synonymous with sacrifice? If you sacrifice for someone else, or for the greater good, you are performing an act of love (charity) are you not?

    I wish I had more info on what he’s saying here. I can agree that a religion founded primarily on fear or guilt (alone) can’t really form a healthy community.

  15. Arthur, keeping the second greatest commandment can certainly commend itself to the nature of God, and to the commitment one has to the first greatest commandment. But that’s just the thing: I see the second greatest commandment as having that very subordinated role of calling attention to the first greatest commandment. When I speak of a theological approach vs. an atheological approach, I’m not necessarily referring to the timing one should use when speaking of the gospel vs. practicing good works, etc. I’m talking about what should more deeply drive, motivate, and shape a person. As John Piper once put it,

    “[T]he bridge from theology to this practical life is doxology, because Christian morality is not willpower religion. Christianity and its morality is not, well, ‘God has the authority to tell us what to do, I’d better grit my teeth and do what he says so that I can go to heaven.’ That’s not Christianity, or Christian living. Christian living is the spillover of worship. It’s the practical outworking of a heart stunned by a glorious, sovereign, saving God. Or it’s nothing, worse than nothing.”

    Here is a related video on the issue, with Tim Keller on the importance of doctrine and theology,

    As he says, everything we do is based on some sort of worldview foundation, whether we know it or not. Ironically, that interview-video was done leading up to a conference on postmodernism.

    The gospel of Jesus Christ was never meant to take a back seat to (or be equated with) family unity, to moralism, to positive feelings, etc. It (and by “it” I mean the truth of it) was meant to be the driving foundation of family unity, morals, and sustained positive feelings. But just in case we were tempted to denigrate “true truth” as secondary and religious beliefs-systems as only “useful”, Jesus taught,

    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26-27

    “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. d a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 10:24-29

    I think C.S. Lewis summed up a large part of this thinking in the following:

    “When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. Insofar as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.” – Letters of C.S. Lewis (8 November, 1952)

    and

    “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

    I don’t see this kind of way of thinking in the “third way” philosophy (no offense, John), who once wrote in the FAQ portion of Mormon Stories,

    “I see the Church (warts and all) as being much more of a positive than negative influence in people’s lives (and on society), and have not found anything that works better for me and my family (and no longer expect to).”

    Maybe I am misinterpreting him, but the sense I get from my collective reading is that he sees all religious truth-claims as valid, and his choice to be a Mormon really isn’t based on seeing more validity to Mormonism’s actual truth-claims, but rather is based on its usefulness to social, moral, emotional, and relational aspects of life, regardless of them being rooted or not rooted in the true truth (in contrast to what is simply “true for him”). John, I hope you understand that it is my convictions that drive me to speak on these matters, not a personal agenda against you.

    Grey Echols, a Mormon, wrote the following in a review of By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus:

    “This is a well written book which manages to not push an ‘anti-Mormon’ agenda. However as an LDS I do not think others should read it. Why? Because it could destroy your faith in the Church. I am not trying to be clever. If you enjoy all of the good things the Church has brought into your life, do you care where it came from? No other Church has so short a history that it can be examined so closely by science. Otherwise we would find that they are all created on the backs of con-artist. I am willing to bet every religion was founded by a fraud. So who cares. Does religion bring us together? Does it bond a nation, a town, a family? If so then let it be. The truth is fleeting, and life is short. If believing in Santa makes children smile then believing in God makes adults smile. When children find out Santa isn’t real, you kill a certain spark you can never get back. When you expose a Church as a fraud, you kill a little spark in all of us.”

    That is the kind of thinking I’m speaking against here.

  16. “but the sense I get from my collective reading is that he sees all religious truth-claims as valid, and his choice to be a Mormon really isn’t based on seeing more validity to Mormonism’s actual truth-claims, but rather is based on its usefulness to social, moral, emotional, and relational aspects of life, regardless of them being rooted or not rooted in the true truth (in contrast to what is simply ‘true for him’). John, I hope you understand that it is my convictions that drive me to speak on these matters, not a personal agenda against you.”

    Aaron, I hope it is not your position that anyone who believes this should withdraw from the Church.

    Philosophically speaking, I am not sure we can ever “know” what is “true” for someone else. For example, I suppose we can claim that no Christian in the middle ages could “know” from God that the Christian Church was “true”, or at least “true enough” to give their entire lives (and some times life itself) in its service. Or that no Muslim, or Jew, could “know” from God that their faith tradition is “true” or “true enough” for them to devote their entire lives in its service.

    I know some people who claim that Latter-day Saints cannot “know” that our Church is “true” or “true enough” and in fact some people who claim to “know” that our religion is “false.”

    I do not know what God has revealed to my brothers and sisters in other faith or nonfaith traditions, I only know what I have felt by way of answer from Him. My experiences and promptings of the Spirit tell me that this is the Way God wishes me to follow. True, that “Way” includes an exclusivity claim, and I accept it, but I am not sure it gives me a reason to claim my brothers and sisters who believe differently are not, in some important way, following God’s will and purpose for them.

  17. I have to say I’m a bit more convinced by Arthur than Aaron. But then again, I’m a potboiler :3.

    “The gospel of Jesus Christ was never meant to take a back seat to (or be equated with) family unity, to moralism, to positive feelings, etc. It (and by “it” I mean the truth of it) was meant to be the driving foundation of family unity, morals, and sustained positive feelings. But just in case we were tempted to denigrate “true truth” as secondary and religious beliefs-systems as only “useful””

    For example, with this, the “gospel of Jesus Christ” is this shadowy, barely understandable thing. You’ve got plenty of people claiming they have the essence of it and they understand it (and certainly you can claim that because the fruits of some people are rotten, they just don’t understand it even though they say it), but from knowing this “true truth” they end up doing little to bring “family unity, moralism, positive feelings, etc.,” It sounds great when C.S. Lewis or anyone else can say, when we learn to love God, we can love others even better — but many people, reading the same texts as C.S. or you or anyone, don’t get the message they need to truly love God (yet, they think they do). So now, they have 0 out of 2 and in their zeal to share the “true truth” (which they have misunderstood), they actually wreak havoc.

    On the other hand, the useful and practical things of these belief systems are so because…we can touch and feel them. And if only we could get rid of the superfluous walls that keep us away from them, we’d be able to see these things.

    As for the article, I still think it detooths religion in a way that the good posters at MM shouldn’t be too comfortable with.

    “When people experience joy and awe and love, they say there’s something incredible going on inside them, and it must have been put there by some higher being. In the English language, ‘God’ is what we’ve chosen to call these feelings. We say God because it’s the best thing we know. We have to confabulate words, because positive emotions…[don’t] have language attached.”

    When I read this quote in the article, I don’t disagree. But what I say is, why must I or anyone else make this leap to say “they must have been put there by some higher being.” And even if I do make this jump, what makes me say it’s any of the gods people have currently theorized? Especially when I see that I can experience these feelings without being a part of (insert group here) and when I’m a part of insert group here, these feelings could actually be obscured or eliminated.

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  19. DavidH, I am far more interested in what is “true truth” than what is merely “true for you”. If, as “third way Mormons” seem to imply (and sometimes explicate), all religious truth-claims are equally valid—including the claim that Jesus did rise from the dead, and the claim that he did not rise from the dead—then the one who said, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”, was potentially lying, speaking in ignorance, or speaking under a delusion.

    Jesus said of his faithful apostles, “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” (John 17:8) The writer of the Gospel of John wrote (speaking of himself), “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.” (John 19:35)

    When Pontius Pilate treated the subject of “truth” with a pessimistic attitude (John 18:38), he was responding to Jesus who said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (v. 37)

    So I’m not sure how one can, with integrity, approach Christianity apart from embracing true truth, apart from being “of” the true truth. Jesus didn’t just come to bear witness to what is merely “true for you” or “true for me”, he came to “bear witness to the truth”. Trying to milk Christian religion for social, psychological, relational, and sociological benefits irrespective of being “true truth” calls into question the very founder of the religion, Jesus Christ. And when one tries to milk Mormonism while having a philosophy that the real truthfulness or falsity of the religion’s truth-claims cannot be known, he or she calls into question the nature of the internal testimony Mormonism promotes. In other words, one is trying to milk Mormonism while rejecting one of the essential, central claims of Mormonism.

    Sincerely,

    Aaron

  20. So, Aaron, if someone approaches Christianity apart from “embracing true truth,” or if they don’t find “true truth,” should they leave their church, whatever denomination it is? I take what DavidH said in 19 and turn it around into a more open question: is your position that people who believe in an atheological approach should withdraw from their churches?

    I mean, it seems that such an ultimatum would be disastrous for any religion, but because of what you call an atheological view, many people stay in.

  21. Andrew, yes, anyone who rejects the truth-claims of a religion, or says that such truth-claims are unknowable, should withdraw their membership. Integrity requires a basic, fundamental continuity between one’s religious affiliation and one’s religious belief system.

  22. Aaron, perhaps those who “reject” a religion’s **truth-claims** should withdraw; perhaps not. I tend to believe there are reasons for many to remain affiliated with a religion (in this case, the LDS Church) even if they can’t embrace the truth claims. Those reasons might include things as simple as, “It’s the best I know, even if I don’t believe it’s exclusively true,” and as complex as, “My wife (or husband) and kids are happy in it, they embrace it, and I am willing to participate as a non-believing member of record in order to maximize their peace and happiness.”

    What really concerns me is your extension of that to those who believe truth-claims are “unknowable” – since I believe they actually ARE unknowable to many.

    Our own scriptures say that some are given the gift “to know”, while others are given the gift “to believe” those who know. I think there is great selfless service that can be provided by those who either believe those who know or even don’t believe those who believe or know – if they stay in the Church. I have NO problem whatsoever with members who reject exclusive truth claims retaining their membership, as long as they don’t fight the Church. I have no problem with those who think things are unknowable staying the Church – with no disclaimers whatsoever. I think they belong in the Church every bit as much as someone who feels they know everything – or even as someone who actually might know everything.

    Fighting the Church is one thing; simply not accepting certain claims is quite another. Simply saying certain things can’t be known is at a completely different (and truly dangerous) level, imo. Personally, I would hope that NOBODY whose only “issue” is an inability to accept truth-claims or feel they are knowable would face excommunication over it or be encouraged to leave. I would feel a deep sense of loss and injustice if that were to happen.

    To say it differently, I don’t think accepting all truth-claims (especially the exclusive ones) even is a requirement of worthy temple attendance (or even ward or stake leadership), much less regular membership. I know a highly visible member of leadership in a stake where I have lived who doesn’t like the “only true church” phrase because of how it can be and is interpreted by many – inside and outside the Church. I understand his concern, and I share it to a degree. He is a faithful member, with a truly miraculous conversion story, and to think that he should give up his membership simply because he can’t accept that particular “truth-claim” truly is abhorrent to me.

  23. Oh, and Aaron, it is relevant to point out that your standard is your own as someone outside of Mormonism. I respect that – truly, but it’s important for the context of this conversation to know that you are encouraging others to leave a community of which you are not a part, not pushing others out from your own current community. Mormonism is far more inclusive in this regard than many brands of evangelicalism, and that plays a part of how this discussion has evolved.

    Again, I respect your message, even if I disagree with it. I simply think there is a real difference between someone from outside of Mormonism telling Mormons they need to leave even if they only believe things are “unknowable” and someone from within Mormonism telling other Mormons they need to leave. One (from the “outside”) is “missionary work” (recruitment) in a very real way; the other (from the “inside”) smacks of conceit and arrogance and exclusiveness.

    Your missionary efforts form the outside in encouraging Mormons to leave the Church are laudable, but they at least need to be distinguished from what I, as a “believer”, would say from the inside.

  24. “If, as “third way Mormons” seem to imply (and sometimes explicate), all religious truth-claims are equally valid—including the claim that Jesus did rise from the dead, and the claim that he did not rise from the dead—then the one who said, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”, was potentially lying, speaking in ignorance, or speaking under a delusion.”

    Aaron, I really like this.

    “Andrew, yes, anyone who rejects the truth-claims of a religion, or says that such truth-claims are unknowable, should withdraw their membership. Integrity requires a basic, fundamental continuity between one’s religious affiliation and one’s religious belief system”

    Aaron, this can’t be true.

    Aaron, I don’t think my views are necessarily that far from yours, based on what I’ve seen so far. In fact, I think the fundamental question you are asking is the same one I have: how DO third way Mormons work out the apparently contradictions in their beliefs? Do they? Or do they just live with it?

    Yet, I’m convinced that people can and do live with contradictions and they may not even seem like contradictions to them, even if they really are provably a contradiction. (Like say a Trinitarian does with the Trinity doctrine.)

    And then there is the possibility that it’s NOT a contradiction and I just don’t understand their beliefs.

    I would love to ask John Dehlin (using him as an example) why God would inspire a deception like the Book of Mormon. This is an apparent contradiction.

    John may or may not have a response to that question, I don’t know. I may find that he’s given this a lot of thought and that he’s built up a theology that does work the contradiction out. (I would probably disagree with his theology, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a contradiction.)

    Or it may be he just isn’t that worried about that point and lives with the contradiction. (This would leave open a fair question as to why it’s okay to use “logic” against believers while yourself believing a contradiction, but that’s another issue.)

    Or it’s possible he’s simply never thought of that point before. (Knowing John, he has.) I have no way of knowing and he isn’t volunteering.

    But no matter which of the above is true, I’d be hard pressed to say there is a moral or intellectual integrity issue with his decision to stay active in the LDS Church.

    For example, if he has some way of working it all out, then he does and there is no issue. If he remains in the LDS church because he admits he’s not sure how true it is compared to other religions, I still see no issue since he has no basis for finding a “truer” religious movement. If he’s never thought of these issues before, there is still no issue.

    The only case where it would be a violation of personal integrity would be if he was remaining in the LDS church so that he can have “the creds” while actively trying to convert people to his “more true” point of view. I fear some third way Mormons do exactly this and I find it abhorrent. I think such people, once found, should be excommunicated. But John and most third way Mormons don’t fit this bill and so they should be allowed to help move the faith forward to the degree they see fit. We can use all the help we can, anyhow. 🙂

  25. I’ve given more thought to positive emotions vs. negative emotions. I am going to retract part of what I said previously. I DO believe so-called negative emotions are often a positive and even required part of a successful religion.

    I was just thinking about how “guilt” is such an important part of religion. Granted, if it becomes all consuming, it will be harmful. But as a basis for repentance and then letting it go, it’s such a healthy thing.

    Besides, wasn’t there a study where they found the more demanding a religion was the more successful it was? So I’m not sure the original post, while true, is all the truth.

  26. “I would love to ask John Dehlin (using him as an example) why God would inspire a deception like the Book of Mormon. This is an apparent contradiction.”

    I need to clarify here. I’ve never seen John claim the Book of Mormon was a deception. It seems implied by the rest of his beliefs and many third way Mormons do believe this. Yet many also believe it was inspired of God, like John does.

    So this was meant more as an example for the sake of argument then an assessment of John’s personal theology. And I’m only using John because it’s his post and, to be blunt, he likes dialog and isn’t easily offended.

  27. There seems to be an implicit acceptance of the bogus term “true truth” that was posited. Why? We are biased toward our own faith as containing facts while we see others as containing myths or flawed understanding. Perhaps all religious traditions contain all three. Faith is not based on logic or proof but those with it choose hope because they have a believing heart. They can try to say why, but I don’t think it’s possible to understand why.

  28. Absolute truth vs. “true for me.” We all accept the existence of both. I may like Peanut Butter and Jelly and you may like Tuna fish. That’s an example of “true for me.”

    But it is not possible that there was a man name Jesus that was God and that there wasn’t. It’s not possible that that Jesus both rose from the dead and didn’t.

    Thus all “religions” (in this case I mean personal belief systems) contain mixes of things they absolutely believe to be true and that they believe are just true for them. The idea that all truth is relative is itself an absolute, and is thus a contradiction.

    We’d all do well to be honest with ourselves on this. We all accept some things we believe as absolute truths and thus anyone that disagrees with us as wrong or at least inferior by comparison. There is no other logical possiblity.

    But it seems to me that there is some wiggle room on this. I think something can be seen as both “not entirely correct” but also as “uplifting.” Thus I do not have to reject something as “all bad” or even “bad” or even “neutral” just because I believe it’s “not technically true.”

    Can DAMUs learn to see the beauty in the lives of Mormon believers founded around Mormon beliefs even if they see them as technically all wrong? Or their fate to only see the negatives or imagine up negatives? (And more to the point, why is it so hard?)

    Can Believing Mormons learn to see the beauty in relativism (and it’s attempt to find truth everywhere) even though it’s technically a contradiction? Can we at least say that relativism is often true?

    There is much “truth” even in seeming untruths, I’ve found. Thus relativism, while not fully true must be seen as sometimes true or at least partially true.

  29. Thanks for the interesting article John, even if it was from O Magazine.

    Dr. Vaillant’s whole premise is that “spirituality is simply the experience of positive emotions: faith, hope, love, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, awe, and especially joy-emotions for which humans are hardwired, and ‘the very emotions that are in the Psalms.'”

    But then he says, “Until you had religion that said love and compassion were more important than sacrifice, guilt, and fear-it wasn’t until you had that, that any city could survive. All of the world’s great cities self-destructed until you had this shift in how you used religion-from ritually supporting negative emotion to ritually supporting positive emotion.”

    Is this statement true? What are the “great cities” that self destructed? And by extension, what great cities have remained? To me this simple statement is somewhat nonsensical without examples. Rome has existed as a great city for thousands of years. Before Christianity what Religion kept it from self-destructing? I can’t remember any specific teaching of love and compassion in Roman mythology? Babylon survived as a city for a couple thousand years. What religious teaching did the Babylonians follow that taught love and compassion?

    Is he implicitly arguing that it’s the religious teachings of the past millennium or two (i.e. Christianity, Islam, Judaism) that allows modern man to develop such seeming great civilizations? I would think that modern sanitation has played a large role than religion at building the great cities of our current civilization.

    Ultimately, I think that Dr. Vaillant is correct when he states, “Parents smiling with their child, playing games, cuddling, reading together: All of these do the same thing that deep meditation and praying do, which is to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart rate and
    lowers blood pressure.”

    Ultimately, I think if you had the opportunity for an in-depth discussion with Dr. Vaillant, he would say something along the lines that it doesn’t matter what you worship, or what your rituals are, but the fact that you do them brings positive emotion to you, and ultimately if you have positive emotion society will benefit.

    Do I have to believe that Joseph Smith was what he claimed to experience the positive aspects of the LDS Church? Do I have to believe that the Pope is infallible and God’s spokesman on earth to experience the positive aspects of catholocism? Can I be an atheist and not have a religion and get the same positive emotions from a loving spouse and children? Can I practice meditation and yet not believe that nirvana is my ultimately goal?

    And that is exactly where Hitchens and Dawkins and other “militant atheists” go wrong. They refuse to see any positive side of religion or to attempt to understand why religion is so enticing to others. They are too wrapped up in their truth claims to appreciate and empathize with others who believe differently.

  30. “Andrew, yes, anyone who rejects the truth-claims of a religion, or says that such truth-claims are unknowable, should withdraw their membership. Integrity requires a basic, fundamental continuity between one’s religious affiliation and one’s religious belief system”

    Not necessarily so. Maturity makes it possible to believe that the fundamental “truth claims” of a church are false but at the same time realize the effects of such membership can have tangible benefits.

    One may also realize that the organization provides value to their children and so choose to support a church because of its real world practicality and community rather than its supposed truthfulness.

  31. Pingback: Standing for…nothing? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  32. John Dehlin, your post says “How Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris Got it Wrong” except, I’m not seeing where you present any information on how they got it wrong. I understand you may want to communicate that these “new atheists” think that religion is bad, but that’s the part they get right according to your argument. What they offer in place of religion is what is not addressed, and should have been presented as the alternative to religion. Their arguments have significant merit against the historicity of religion.

  33. I am fascinated by the almost perpetual “angst” (myself included) some members wrestle with over the orthodoxy of their beliefs. “Truth based” fundamental beliefs or discussion on religious pluralism aside, our emotions often override the rational and in the end, our spiritual health and reservoirs are built and fortified by the positive emotions of compassion, love, forgiveness and mercy etc, not, guilt and fear which constitute part of the bad side of religion. There are far too many religiously bruised people of all faiths to not think otherwise. I loved the article by Mr. Vaillant and thank you John for sharing.
    Those wanting more discussion on this topic may want to read David Wolpe’s book, Why Faith Matters. Most of you have probably already seen David Wolpe debate Sam Harris on Youtube.

    Danny

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