We Mormons have heard it countless times: “I know the Church is true?” But what does this mean? Heck, even more basic, what does “true” mean? In this podcast, host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Joanna Brooks, Dennis Potter, and Rhett Tenney take a deep dive into these questions. Explorations include overviews of major philosophical approaches, especially those most relevant to thinking about religious beliefs and practices, the shifts in thinking that in the past century have revolutionized thought about the nature of truth, including strong recognition of the way we all inhabit discourses that shape our views of truth and the world, and theories from sociology about how social rewards and group cohesion rituals work to make our choices about what we believe and hold to be true anything but purely rational or involving us simply “following the evidence.” The participants also all reflect on the way they view Mormonism and their own spiritual journeys (for one of them, out of the church) understanding what they do about the many factors that feed into this what-used-to-seem-so-simple matter of “truth.”
After listening, we hope you will join the discussion below!
I think there are more than a few of us for whom Nietzsche or Foucault or Derrida gave us a way to continue to participate in Mormonism and/or the church.
So I am listening right now. Maybe you get to it, but I have found that accepting a subjective vs. objective truth about the church can make it hard for some to feel motivated to keep doing all the stuff the church asks us to do. I just wonder whether this form of looking at truth takes us into the camp of Unitarians or Universalists, a camp that some have called, “the feather bed for falling Christians” Any comments on that?
Definitely an issue for many, John. We don’t raise it in the podcast, so I’m glad you did here!
I have thought a lot of times how believing Alma and Ammon and his bros were real people helped me when I first reacted to them and found some courage to try to turn things around in my life. I don’t have that confidence in their being more than literary or archetypal characters now (I am still open to their possibly being guys who once drew breath–just not sure) and I often wonder if I’d encountered characters like that in a novel I was reading might have had the same impact. Probably not at that time, but I do think it would now. And I guess that’s the thrust of what I’d say in response to your note–that it definitely requires a reorientation, a journey, and some real work, but my experience is that non-objectively-grounded truths can and do get very powerful, very motivating.
We had our bishopric changed this week. (And what a wonderful week it has been as three of my four best friends in the ward are the big three–guys that have all heard me in my big rants and not best mature moments and me theirs in some ideas that I totally disagree with, but we nevertheless still love each other.) In his testimony, one of the guys reflected a bit on the passage in John about “greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for his friends” and how as a young man that was an idealized thing, a daydream about grand gestures in which you die on your mission or while saving a child, etc. Now, however, as he’s lived a bit longer, to him it’s about how we give up our lives minute by minute, hour by hour, in service of something–and the question he had to ask himself (and he admitted it wasn’t a slam dunk he’d accept the calling) was if he was willing to give those minutes and hours for us in the ward, for us his friends. I was very moved by that idea, and I see in it an illustration of a shift from “the Lord has called me so I do it unquestioningly” to a genuine “choosing” to serve and love and bear others’ burdens, etc. For me, anyway, this man has answered the question you ask about a possible loss of motivation by saying no, we don’t lose motivation to do things in the church, BUT where in one’s soul that motivation is centered (fear, duty, pride, power vs love, care, lifting another) can indeed shift.
My two cents, anyway. Great question! Hope others will weigh in!
Just wanted to add that I am hopeful that the big tent of Mormonism will expand, yet lately it feels as if the tent is getting smaller. I even had a BYU teacher, who I like very much, state that in his reading of the scriptures there will come a time when essentially the wheat would be divided form the tares. In Church meetings I often ask myself “Am I a tare?” Because my heterodox views do not seem to align with the people around me. And while the Mormon Matters podcast gives me some consolation, I feel that my embodied experiences with my branch in NY are still more real than these disembodied ones. Another issue I would have liked more comments on are how do we reveal who we really are to the people in our congregations, are family, without feeling judged or alienated. That seems to be the spot where I am in now and hoping to emerge from with my “testimony” in tact.
John, I know what it’s like to feel like an outsider in my own religious home. There are things I am very comfortable sharing with my loved ones, such as, “I just got in a car accident!” I know they would all come to my aid. But if I said, “I just read No Man Knows My History, and I’m not sure Joseph Smith is a true prophet anymore!” If I said that, I wouldn’t receive the same kind of sympathy and validation. Dan, this might make for a good program or series, people telling their “Coming Out” stories.
Good idea, Rhett! Thanks!
All my best to you, John. You are in the midst of one of the hardest stretches but most important ones I believe we are ever called to walk through. How do we love, care, stay in relationship when we’re no longer in the same headspace/soulspace as we once were (and that the people around us had grown comfortable with)?
I do believe it’s the key tasks of the human journey toward real maturity to come to truly stand on our own (we can respect someone and not feel bound by their scriptural interpretations), based on our own relationship with God/universe/what we think is highest, choosing our own life for ourselves and not out of obligation to or expectations of others. But we would be wrong to think we can be a healthy person without being in genuine relationship with others, and real relationships are a continuous new creation. You are totally recognizing that, and I honor you in your struggle and search for closer-to-home senses of acceptance for “all” of you and not just the parts others think they only want to encounter in you. (I truly think, however, after initial disorientation you will cause them, most will really love meeting more of you and will thank you for all you have taught them, and you them as your relationships become deeper. Certainly some skillfulness helps, and perhaps we can find some good ideas to point to that are already out there, or even just brainstorm here–or as Rhett suggests, in a future podcast.)
For whatever it’s worth, my experience so far (and trust that it will be for others) is that we will find the right people at the right time and will later come to catch ourselves marveling at all the places and new soulspaces we have traveled in what turns out to be a truly remarkable life. May it be so for you!
joanna brooks is annoying . im sorry but i dont understand why she is considered to have any talent at all. im just dumbfounded
Thanks for replying. We will be sure to send Mormon Matters a small donation to help make the Wotherspoon Christmas a little brighter!
Thanks, John! Brighter Christmas is neat, but always (too?) happy to respond to stuff! All my best!
Hey Dan, We actually do donate every month (not as much as my wife and I’d like because I’m a grad student!) It’s more of a Christmas bonus.
I’m only half way through, I how this wasn’t covered. As a recovering actuary/statistician, I think of truth in terms of statistics, there is an absolute value, known by the greek letter mu µ. For example, the number of likely voters who’d vote for Romney. If you could survey today every last likely voter, you’d know the true value µ. Since that would be next to impossible, we do a survey on a small sample to come up with an average x-bar. Does x-bar equal µ? Who knows? We can just test over and over, become more confident that we are close. Alma 32 alludes to this for me, that our faith (x-bar) gets so consistent that we think we KNOW what µ is. My personal experience is that I believe that there exists a loving, personal god. I don’t know this, but an accumulation of experiences lends me believe it. I believe a being named Jesus is a healer of wounds, because of experience. I’m working towards µ, or rather, I’m a human being living life so I’m having experiences and interpreting them. But I can’t see how one can say they know µ until they die and not be annihilated.
One of the few times my stats professors at BYU could bring the gospel into class was this thought above that I shared. The tongue-in-cheek question is: Is God god because he knows µ, or because he knows x-bar and the standard deviation so well? Sorry to math geek out here!
By the way Joanna Brooks is amazing! She adds so much, I love having her on, reading her blog, etc.
Dan you’re doing a great thing here. All the panelists are excellent!
I like this, Brian. Thanks! Fun stuff to chew on…
I am 33 and currently serving as a Bishop. I joined the church at 17 and while I read everything I could get my hands on I saw the church through the spectacles of a full fledge all or nothing believer for the first ten years though I was aware at least on the surface of most debated issues of the church’s historicty and claims. Jesus born on April 6th, urim and thummin only used in translation, no Danites… ect.. ect.. The Longer I am in the church the more I see the sorting out of what is truth to me and what has been urban legend, embellishments, speculation, and mistruth. Yet I still find myself on the side of believing the church to be true in the sense that the Prophet is like Peter and the Apostles just like Christ’s 12. I recognize the gospels differ in some of the proposed factual statements (by the way enjoyed your previous podcast on the nativity) but still see mortal men who are being guided by God. I would say my testimony is similar to Daniel Peterson, Richard Bushman, and Teryl Givens in that they understand the argument on both sides but still choose to see the church from the angle that it is true.
My question is this – Do you (any of you can answer as I am hopeful for different opinions) see the wiggle room for the Church to still be what it claims to be allowing for the mistakes on men in the process or do you write off the evidence of chiasmus, middle eastern themes woven into the Book of Mormon, the beauty of the Book itself as a witness. the testimony of proclaimed experts such as the three men above. Me personally, I see how people can take their stand on both sides of the fence and am ok with that and respect them. I can honestly see how the church may not be what it claims. I can also still see how it could be and I choose or at least find myself still believing?
Thanks for your podcast, I have truly enjoyed them. Mcreary – the former Mormon evangelist was really good. I almost felt him defending us a little in his interview.
Bill, I’m with you on this one. Let people take the church in whatever way they choose. So I give the church more than wiggle room. It is the one and only true church for whomever that feels credible.
But I think the more important question than, Is the Church true? is What does the Church mean to me? I tried to convey this in the podcast, with the sociology riff.It’s hard for me to take seriously any claims which say, Join us or go to hell. It seems more like a marketing tactic than the essential gospel. And testimonies such as this: “Only in the LDS Church do we find all of the saving ordinances,” is a variation on that very theme. It’s a universal instinct, Ivan says to Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov. It’s not enough to find your truth and bow before it, but you need the whole of mankind to bow down with you. And it is in this collective bow that we are reinforced and comforted.
I think while the LDS faith has some principles and stances that are exclusionist in outward appearence. I think at it’s core though , The LDS Faith is as inclusive in regards to salvation for all. In otherwords, the humble seeker of truth whether LDS, Catholic, or Buddist will find eternal life with GOD in the LDS theology. I know I do not get to define truth, but to me for the LDS Church to actually be true means there had to have been real gold plates written by real people who lived in the Americas many, many years ago. To be true for me it would also mean that if God came down to talk to me he would acknowledge the current President of the Church as his prophet the only person he would reveal major revelations to on behalf of the World. Are leaders allowed to misquote doctrine at times and make errors… sure. Are leaders in the BOM or in the church today allowed to embellish stories and principles… shouldn’t but I can still accept the church as true as I catch myself doing that at times.
For those who do not beleive the plates were real or President Monson is not a prophet in the literal sense, do you see room for these things to be real even if you do not personally take that stance or do you see the apoligetic efforts of those in the church as a stretcha nd far fetched?
For me at least, I am definitely in the stretched and far fetched camp. The twisting and contorting of the meaning of “truth” reminds me of Bill Clinton’s trying to redefine the word “is.” Although I grew up in the church, I was never a big fan of it. The methods it taught to access God – prayer, fasting, scripture reading, temple, etc. didn’t work. Nevertheless, the church totally controlled our lives, demanding a huge time and financial commitment, dictating what we ate, what we drank, how we dressed (to be garment compatable), what movies we could see, what music we could listen to and now apparently how many earrings one can wear. I did not grow up in Utah, and all my childhood friends were non-LDS. I saw first hand that the church did not have a corner on the market as to community, morality or goodness. Nevertheless, I stayed in and did my best to be obedient because I was told it was “true” – meaning God really wanted me to endure the endless meetings and write the checks, and there would be unpleasant eternal consequences if I didn’t. When I figured out it wasn’t true – meaning there was no basis for either the promised blessings or the threats of punishment, I was out like a shot and I’ve never looked back. Now, I simply cannot understand the appeal of Mormonism to someone who no longer believes. I have to conclude they are cultural Mormons who just can’t let go.
I appreciate your thoughts Jake. I too struggle to fully understand how one could stay if they believe the LDS church is not what it purports to be. I have pondered that many a times I have spent time thinking about if the LDS church was confirmed not true what I would do. I couldn’t join any worldwide church because their theology would not fit into my truth. I would likely find some small church on it’s own somewhere and attend. Religion is so tricky, it has such a pull on every aspect of our life. We each must find a place where we feel our relationship with the divine is leading us forward.
The book “The Case For God” compares religion to art/music. Is art true? Doesn’t make sense to even ask. I see something beautiful that moves me, others may not be moved. It doesn’t make it any more true that I’m made a better richer person by some art. It doesn’t make it any less true if someone else isn’t. Apples and oranges to me.
Here’s some of my favorite quotes from the book:
Religion’s task, closely allied to that of art, was to help us live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which they were no easy explanations and problems that we could not solve; mortality, pain, grief, despair, and outrage at the injustice and cruelty of life. 318
Religion is not something we think, but rather something we do. 326
We may have to go into the dark night of the soul or the cloud of unknowing. 327
There is no dramatic “born-again” conversion…..
I am enjoying this conversation. Bill I appreciate so much your openess and understanding. Brian, I really appreciated your comparison of religion to Art. Since we are all so very different, what moves and touches us is different.
Bill, your opening comment about asking for some wiggle room for the church, struck a chord with me. There are many LDS who struggle with history or doctrine or some other issue who neverthless WANT that wiggle room. We want to accept the beautiful precepts taught in the Book of Mormon without necessarily agreeing that it is actual history. We want to be able to talk not only about Chiasmus and middle eastern themes, but also 19th centry themes, and the King James influence in the Book of Mormon. Unfortunately, in todays correlated world of the church, it is anathema to be able to discuss these topics openly in church. We want to participate in the so many good things the church does have and the truths that it does teach.
We want to talk about the great things that Joseph Smith did along with other prophets, while at the same time not burying his marriages to women already married to other active LDS men, or that blacks held the priesthood in the early days of the church and later had it taken away. Having served in two Bishoprics myself and also as a Stake Young Men’s President, I am completely open to the idea that leaders, even prophets and apostles (one of whom I know personally) can make mistakes and heaven forbid even sin, and still be men of God. Our world is not that black and white.
Yes, we will give the church wiggle room, we want to have that wiggle room, but will the church give those of us who have some level of disaffection with the church over dotrine/history/social issues give us wiggle room as well? Will the Church be able to grant the same level of openess for its members as it wishes it members would grant to it? We welcome the invitation you are giving Bishop Bill…but culturally, too many wards, and too many Bishops encouraged by talks in GC are drawing a line in the sand against “truths that are not useful.”
Bruce, excellent comments. Your dilema of being able to speak openly about issues will obviously differ from ward to ward and stake to stake. Even within the twelve I can get a feel of which apostles are tolerant of others believing differently then them and some who draw lines in the sand. I, as a Bishop would not have any problem with these issues being discussed but I could not let them be taught as truth. That would cross the line for me. To discuss what views others have is great. I wish more members were aware of these things earlier on in their life as it would likely prevent some feeling like the church lied to them and cause such a rift when they discover facts outside of what they were taught on Sunday. I myself have felt lied to at times, only to discover later that the issue was discussed in the ensign 20 years ealier and the church wasn’t hiding it.
(our columns are getting skinnier!)
Let me ask you about your comment “…I could not let them be taught as truth” Having served in a Bishopric, I am aware of the responsibility to speak up when incorrect doctrine is being taught. I do not have an issue with that. But what are you talking about specifically, when you say you could not let “them” be taught as truths?
For example, it is true that Joseph Smith was married to women who were already married to other active LDS men. That is true. It is a truth. A fact acknowledged by the most ardent believing LDS scholars. For some, that simple fact has challenged their testimonies seriously, for others, it has allowed them to appreciate Joseph Smith even more as he struggled to implement a commandment that was challenging to all without necessarily challenging their testimony. There are many who are aware of this and still hold Joseph as a prophet. The LDS scholars at FAIR who attempt to explain this are just one example.
Are you saying that you could not allow anything to be taught that would challenge the notion of Joseph as a prophet (such as the polyandrous marriages) even though it were true? Or, are you saying that you would be ok with teaching about Joseph polyandrous marriages as long as it was still taught that Joseph was a prophet? Would you allow an in depth discussion of Joseph’s polyandrous marriages? (and by extension his marriages to teenage girls, a mother and her daughter, lies to Emma about it etc)
You are in an interesting place for sure. I don’t envy your position. On one hand you are surely having doubts as to the accuracy of the truth/historical claims of the church but yet you have a flock to lead. Your ward depends on you believing in the literalness of the church narrative. While not in your exact position I have experienced the tremendous turmoil that comes when one faces this dichotomy. As hard as it is, I have found much more peace in accepting that the “truth” claims ie. (book of mormon account is literal, LDS church is one and only true church) are not accurate and then finding a way to stay in the church to partake of the other things that are good in the church. Bart Ehrman talks about this as “true stories that didn’t happen”. That is where I see wiggle room. Not in the accuracy of the truth claims but in trying to find something in the values, morality, service, community, etc. the church has to offer. IMO, the more you look for wiggle room in the literal truth claims the more unsettled you will be. The church itself says the book of mormon is one of the cornerstones of the church, thus if it falls, well you can decide what to make of the rest of the church. So if you still see wiggle room for the historical book of mormon, I suggest two best selling books that actually say nothing about Mormonism and very little about religion, but dismantle any hope that the BofM story could have occurred in history. Guns Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, and 1491 by Charles Mann. As a bonus, the Michael Coe interview by John Dehlin is a must listen.
Interesting and subtle point, KC, about looking for wiggle room in the literalness vs truths underlying the myths. I think you’re right that the first is a recipe for continued instability vs the latter. The mythic move is a bigger and more difficult leap, for sure, but I am with you that it is the only one that can eventually lead to a true centeredness. Thanks for phrasing it as you did! I’ve intuited the same thing but just have never found a way to bring that to words. Appreciate your showing the way!
I think there is so much interest in the phrase “I know the Church is true” when really it is just an abbreviation for a foundational claim of Mormonism. People get stuck on the philosophical implications of an institution being true, and then they dive into the meaning of the word “true.” That’s completely missing the point. Nothing in that statement is about epistemology. It is simply about divine authority. It is a restorationist claim.
The foundational claim of that oft repeated statement is that there are many churches, but only one is the Church sponsored by God. See Ephesians 4:5. There are many churches that falsely claim to be of God, but only one is the true/real church of God. It is the only institution that God wants you to belong to.
All this is clearly explained in Joseph Smith–History 1:18-20. Joseph was told that all the churches were wrong, their creeds were an abomination, their believers were corrupt, they taught rules made up by men, and they pretended to be godly. Joseph even went home to his mother and said, “Presbyterianism is not true.” I mean, this practice of calling churches true and false goes straight back to the First Vision (at least this account). I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a common expression in Joseph’s environment.
Read Dallin H. Oaks’ talk “The Only True and Living Church,” Henry B. Eyring’s address “The True and Living Church,” and Boyd K. Packer’s sermon “The Only True Church.” This will demonstrate how much the claim even today is about authority and not “truth” in the post-Enlightenment sense.
Fascinating point, Jacob! Thanks for raising the issue of the way this claim indeed does function. Definitely a piece of the puzzle. I’d argue with you, however, if you think this is how Latter-day Saints intend for their affirmation to be heard. For most, they are operating out of a substantive definition of truth not a functional one. (If I really think about it, I, on the other hand, might actually intend a functional hearing of my testimony–kind of a pragmatic, this is what gives me meaning and joy kind of thing. Mine just wouldn’t be with the intended function of asserting any kind of authority or exclusivism.) Again, great, fun angle! Glad you threw this in the mix!
The substance of the truth they are declaring is that the LDS Church is the only church of God. It is not a claim about “truth” itself. Mormons don’t struggle with the definition of truth–except on some exceptional podcasts!. I guess you could search through church materials to find out if the phrase is intended to define truth what truth is. You could probably survey Mormons, too. I bet you would find the same answer either way. It is a declaration of belief in the authority of the church.
I think your parenthetical discourse is simply referring to the functional nature of testimony bearing as a ritual which I assure you is much more your territory than mine. Testimony bearing is definitely a functional exercise in the sense that it is a core Mormon ritual. It has an obvious sociological value.
I guess I am concentrating on the affirmation that it is true (which I believe most mean, as Dennis suggested in the discussion, that its teachings match reality), while you are focusing on the exclusivism claims. I think you are right on the latter. I do think the exclusivistic version is fading, but when it is employed, what you say is in those persons’ minds is likely true.
I think Joseph Smith sincerely worked his way towards the correspondence model of truth. D&C 93:24, says that “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” Does this sound like postmodernism to y’all? The revelation continues by saying that those that are obedient “receiveth truth and light until [they are] glorified in truth and knoweth all things” (v. 28). Being able to know all things isn’t a very postmodern concept. Later verses declare that “the light of truth was not created” and that “all truth is independent.” This is not internal justification. At least at this point in time, Joseph’s epistemology is very much more like modernism rather than postmodernism.
In fact, I think Joseph’s model for discovering truth progressed gradually more toward the modern (as opposed to postmodern) view. He began by delving into the occult to discover the hidden truths. As he grew in understanding, maturity, influence, and confidence he began to study things more for himself. He began to count less and less on the occult. He found his home eventually in a more secular (or should I say, less supernatural) world view. Instead of trying to reach into the mystery of the occult, he brought the ineffable God down to earth.
God wasn’t this concept that was formless, unfathomable, unreachable deity. God was a perfected human. We could have everything God had. If this isn’t the pinnacle of Humanism, the Enlightenment, Realism, etc., I don’t know what is. This is fundamentally anti-postmodern.
I realize that Mormonism has an open canon, but that does not mean that Mormonism has no canon. I would like to know if the panelists can argue for the postmodernist world view based on the Standard Works. I’ll even give you conference talks and Ensign magazine articles. I’m genuinely curious whether the source material is there to construct a postmodernist world view from Mormon materials.
I have a hard time with understanding all this lingo. I would never intrude on anyone else’s right to believe whatever they want. While I certainly could find a spiritual lift in the BOM even if it wasn’t a literal record, I would not base my life on it’s teachings. IF the the whole story is some fictional beneifit I could not bring myself to actively participate. Have we ever thought how this church more than any other provides a dynamic where even he we no longer hold it’s theology to be literal we still try to find some way to rationalize how we fit within it and can stay actively engaged in the faith. No right or wrong here. I know at times I have had to compromise my Sunday School Version of church history to accomdate facts that point otherwise…. ex: seer stone in a hat and poylgamy issues. Our Faith really has one of those you can leave the church but you will never leave it alone.
Jacob. I think you’re account of Joseph Smith is very accurate. He took a very earthy, in-this-world approach to the gospel. And you’re probably correct to say that those who take Mormonism with a postmodernist point of view do so from outside the tradition. But for some, that is the most honest way they can approach the church. Further, Joseph’s idea of truth is fraught with perils. When he pointed at the dirt and said, “Here lies the white Lamanite captain, Zelph,” he wasn’t speaking in metaphorical terms. And yet even the most adamant Book of Mormon geographer is not able to countenance such a claim. Another example. I teach High School, and just the other day after talking about the Chauvet Cave (with paintings from 35,000 years ago), a Mormon student pulled me aside and asked how I could believe some human was painting in a cave so long ago when the Bible says Adam only lived 7,000 years ago. My advise was to not pin his testimony on the literal Biblical time-line. I think to do otherwise would force him to reject something very important, either the church or science.
That said, I think there are indications that other ideas of truth may be in the cards. How else can you account for the various creation narratives Joseph Smith produced? Book of Moses. Book of Abraham. The Temple Endowment. Wait. There was a Protestant Minister? They can’t all be historically accurate. They must be accurate in a metaphorical sense.
You can decide whether or not this is satisfactory, but I argued for a version of truth like this in a post:
I think you are right that some of Joseph’s truths are fraught with peril. They can reasonably be demonstrated as false. I don’t think a non-believer would have a difficult time accounting for the materials that Joseph produced. They are simply fabrications constructed in a context he was familiar with. I don’t think anyone would argue that Joseph wanted people to interpret his assertions of truth as metaphorical. Whether he was being purposefully deceptive, I don’t think anyone can answer with much confidence.
Where does your confidence come from in saying “that they must be accurate in a metaphorical sense?” If I could guess what you are thinking, you are saying that personal experiential evidence demonstrates to you that there is truth in Joseph’s claims. Therefore, if they are not literally true then all that is left is for them to be metaphorically true. Honestly, why do you not consider going a step farther and ask whether there is any truth at all in them?
BTW, I checked out your blog. Interesting stuff!
Again, appreciate all that you bring into these discussions, Jacob!
I guess, to me, I’d simply argue that JS was indeed a modernist because that was the environment he swam in. Just as OT prophets thought in tribal terms and out of an ancient cosmology, and just as every NT writer brought his own background, temperament, interests, and unexamined assumptions into play in their writings, so did JS. So do today’s prophets. So will tomorrow’s. So do we all and always will.We see occasional break-ins of LDS prophets and leaders treating certain stories mythically (certainly BY and SWK on Adam and Eve, and DOM’s clear openness to non-literal views when it comes to evolution. If I had time, I’d think about more. And I think we’d see more of it were we not mostly reading/hearing them in public settings in which subtle thought could be appreciated. Certainly they contribute to the problem by not trusting the audience with more, but in many ways, the audience also creates them. Folks who come to podcasts like ours are not the center of the church. We’d love not to be hassled by them during their performing of their duties to preach basics at a rhetorical level that can be understood by almost all, but we also need to embrace the fact that we’re capable of understanding all the ways our own stories and backgrounds and personalities and social situations affect our worldview and even what questions we ask, so why should we really care if they’re preaching doesn’t ring with a lot of postmodern awareness? We’re not sitting around bemoaning that the OT and NT writers didn’t think of truth in the same way we do or realize all that we understand about the world, why worry that JS and most Mormon rhetoric isn’t caught up? Concerning scripture, why would we expect them to given the dates they were created?
Anyway, I believe we’re called on our own journeys, and I’m don’t feel I’d be honoring that call were I to not follow and try to make sense of things in the new vistas that I believe are proving to be not only giving a more accurate view of what really goes on as we humans consider what is and isn’t “truth,” but also perspectives that lead to far more powerful spiritual insights. I think it’s time to be pathbreakers and to establish a body of writing and audio and every other form of discourse (and a large cohort of those living lives of joy and orientation and purpose) that center in these broader awarenesses so as to make it easier for others coming along–as certainly society and the church will continue to feel their way into these new understandings. They always do.
I guess I’m struggling to understand the limits of Mormon identity. I hear your discussions arguing for a broader and deeper Mormonism, but mostly what I see is the breadth and depth rising out of importing some pretty awesome ideas from the host society.
If the epistemology Joseph Smith settled on and the canon that he established are not source enough for a postmodern world view, then why waste your time trying to shoehorn postmodernism into Mormonism? Why not just accept that most of this talk isn’t related to Mormonism at all? It’s just a contemporary understanding of belief, truth, and justification that comes out of mainstream academic thought. It feels like you are trying to hold on to the Mormon label.
Why do we try to tie all this back to Mormonism? Maybe another way to clear my confusion is to ask what really is core or essential to Mormonism? I blindly assumed the modern definition of truth was and is inseparable. Then again, these are questions that postmodernism rejects as absurd, right? (I’m really curious. I’m not being a smartie pants, I swear.)
I am an engineer, and although I appreciate and enjoy postmodernism, I think it’s dominance in contemporary culture and thought was way overstated in this podcast. I think all the panelist have a humanities background where postmodernism is king. But there are many of us who interact with the ruthless physical or natural world. The epistemic power of postmodernism is completely lost on the physical. Engineers and scientists need much more functional methodologies for determining truth or obtaining knowledge about the natural environment.
This problem was completely avoided in the podcast discussion because God and religion were categorized as completely analytical concepts. If there is any religion on the earth today that claims God is not an analytical concept, it is Mormonism. God is a man of flesh and bones. He is made of the same stuff we are and he inhabits the same universe that we do. We can know and understand God. We can become like him. These are not abstract conceptualizations of deity. The Mormon claims about deity are clearly falsifiable (I don’t mean false). We may not have the technology or understanding today to test these assertions, but someday we theoretically will.
BTW, one of my pet peeves is when postmodernist claim that quantum physics and the theory of relativity have anything to do with the theories of postmodernism. I’m not a master of these two physical theories, but it is simply folk or psuedo-science to argue that they coincide with postmodernism.
Disagree that it’s so cut and dried even in the ruthless physical and natural world. I see lots of awareness out there (and both Dennis and Joanna highlighted it) that what science is doing is operating from a perspective of this and that and that and this work and have proven to be predictable, while it is consistently rethinking whether or not its models of “the way things are” are actually true. Heisenberg, Copenhagen Interpretation, double- and triple-blind experimentation methodologies, frickin wondering what the heck might need to be revised if Higgs Boson continues to elude. Science and engineering operate, as you say, a functional orientation, which alone alerts me to awarenesses of at least many concepts that play in postmodernism.
Disagree that God was treated purely analytically. No one on the podcast rules out Deity as possibly existing in reality. I think most are hopeful. I know I am. We certainly have an awareness that the discourses we inhabit lead us to think in certain ways about God or any kind of Universal Force, that shape the kinds of questions we ask. Hence we are aware that we need to always be willing to be tentative, but no way is God held only as an analytical concept.
Don’t know if you’re just sharing a pet peeve or if you think any of us made a claim about quantum or relativity theories that crossed your threshhold. My recollection is I spoke once about “wave functions” as an analogy to someone making a decision that collapsed a dilemma just as certain actions on the part of an experimenter will collapse the potentiality of a wave function, but you can’t think this crosses over into saying this has “anything to do with postmodernism.”Does someone using an example from bowling to illustrate a concept mean that person thinks there is a connection? I also remember Joanna commenting that the same time relativity and quantum theories were emerging coincided with the rise of postmodern thought, but she certainly wasn’t making a causal connection between the two. Are you denying they began to emerge during the same time period (or that each had roots dating back even farther, in the ways she suggested)?
Finally, is your last lines about folk- or pseudo-science simply a random observation that came to mind as you talked about postmodernism and these theories often being tied together, or are you suggesting these were infiltrating this podcast’s conversations? If you think the latter, say it out and defend the accusation. I welcome the chance to rumble.
Can you tell this wasn’t one of my favorite posts of yours?
No. I really couldn’t tell until the last sentence. You’re right, though. This last post was mostly an expression of frustration. I love postmodernism and the breadth of perspectives it allows me to entertain, accept, and embrace. I especially like how skeptical it teaches us to be about our own conceptions of things. But on the other hand, it is frustrating to dive completely into it like y’all do.
I need a functional method for determining truth when truth needs to be determined. I need an operational system for identifying an optimum solution. I don’t see how postmodernism provides this. This is something we all need for our lives. It isn’t just something scientists and engineers need.
More babblings of very smart people justifying parasiticic delusions that have taken hold in theIr minds. The modern knowledge of the world is limiting its nutritional supply. Dan… You spend your time feeding it.
Each to their own I guess. Yet, I still feel sad when it hear it.
First, some of the folks here are smart… so what. Second, the folks on which side are deluded?
third – what is your stance? fourth – I am better off today in my spiritual journey having took the time to understand the issues then years ago when I saw everything as black and white.
Wow…ME…”The modern knowledge of the world is limiting in its nutritional supply??” Really? Then why do scriptures advocate to seek learning out of the best books diligently? Why is the glory of God intelligence? Why are we told to study things out in our minds? Why did the Church bother with the creation of several universities that bask in their great accomplishments and contributions to the modern world of knoweldge? Why is it that every single member of the first presidency and quorum of the world be considered educated men by the world’s standards with some holding advanced degrees. Doubt and questioning of one’s own faith is what our missionaries ask non-members to do every day. Joseph revelations came precisely because he wanted to know what was truth and was not afraid to challenge current conventions. Our own testimonies and our own faith become stronger when confronting doubts and dealing with them. We study, we pray, and we are not afraid of truth. It is what Joseph did and that is all that Dan and many others are doing.
Hi Me! I will try not to be snarky. But this is what I am seeing here. You are an orthodox believer in the Church. No one here is telling you that you need to go, indeed I am grateful for orthodox believers who serve faithfully in the church. But for people who are struggling with orthodox belief this is the kind of judgmental statement that makes it hard for people struggling to stay. So is what you are saying is that you would rather not have people like Dan in the church or is it because you feel qualified to call him to repentance? Until you have walked in the mans shoes please be careful how you judge. I do not doubt that you have found the answers you are searching for, please allow others that same liberty to search ponder and pray as you have.
Yet another fantastic conversation. Thank you all so much.
I was wondering if the panel could maybe give us some recommended reading? Some light (ha) reading for Christmas vacation?
Great panel discussion, Love your wrap up at the end Dan, you are the master! You are the best…sending *virtual* Mango/Passion fruit pie your way from Kauai! Aloha love…<3
This was a bit wonkish for simple-minded folks like me. I’m sure the philosophy geeks were thrilled! I almost gave up midway through but decided to slog through. I’m so glad I did because the last 25 minutes or so were spectacular and certainly worth wading through the rest! Thanks for another great listen!
Personally, I wonder how much truth has to do with, say, our decisions regarding religion. I would wager the decisions are much more often emotional than reasoned. Rationalised, but not so rational, necessary.
I’ve thought a lot of the unforgiving definition of “truth”. What is that, really? I suggest that if we take it far enough, there is an infinite universe, we can observe about 170 billion galaxies with an 10E7 to 10E14 stars in them (the largest observed galaxies have something like 100 trillion stars); our planet alone contains a practically infinite amount of organisms, complex molecules and even some fairly stable elements. My full definition of truth is to be able to grasp the state of my surroundings.
Even if we stick to human interaction, we have to concentrate all of our attention to staying truthful, otherwise we tend to lie. Humans are expert deceivers, and usually we start the deception right at home–with ourselves. That is why it is so difficult to know who is telling the truth and who’s not; that is also why it is so difficult to know if we ourselves are telling the truth.
So whenever someone claims to have the full and final truth e.g. about God, I roll my eyes at least mentally (that is, if I’m trying to be polite).
I think faith in God is a decision, which is mostly emotional. I feel I have a spiritual witness of the things that I have faith in, but I have barely scratched the surface, and I believe few, very few of us scratch the surface deep enough.
What amuses me is people leaving the Church when they find out that they weren’t told about something in Primary or even in the Seminary. No human institution tells “the full truth and nothing but the truth” in its communication–and let’s stress the fact that even if Thomas S. Monson is really a prophet of God, the Church is always a human institution, because we remain humans, even if we are called by God to do something.
Somebody said that we must learn to live with what we can’t rise above. Our emotional problems are 99% in our own head.
Fantastic podcast. The panel handled “truth” so deftly, I wonder if next week you could give similar treatment to “trustiness” (yes, according to the photo at the top of the post, it’s a word)
Just a couple random thoughts as I listened.
1.) Near the end, Dan you referenced the need for conflict and resolution of conflict is not entirely desirable, (you have quick Victor Frankl reference if I remember) but you didn’t get to elaborate. I would enjoy hearing more.
2.) Also near the end the statement was made that the Mormon faith was no-better/no-worse than any other religion so make your decision based on what you need for yourself, your personality, etc. (paraphrasing of course). Implied, I am sure, but I am going to explicitly call it out that a valid choice for many is the complete removal of religion from their faith – that this best fits personalities and is the most healthy alternative for many. 🙂
3.) And at the very near end was the commentary that living with a nuanced view of the faith will get easier and that it is possible to enjoy the religion despite having a different take on truth of the truth claims. I certainly hope so, but in the micro-mormon-environments I live in, (my ward/my stake), it’s virtually a no-go. That nuanced version of truth is considered a poison. There is nothing but black and white. There is exceptionalism in the very core of the faith as practiced by those in my wards and stakes, (plural in that I can’t remember a ward or stake I have lived in where the truth was not considered by the majority at literal levels.). I have periodically been very open and frank in my current ward about where I stand and the reaction is sometimes even hostile. There are those that would wish I not come, for fear of my own views damaging those around me despite the fact that I barely utter a word anymore during my weekly visit to sacrament meeting. Bottom line, I am jealous of those of you that have wards with enough progressive minds to find a niche in which you can feel welcomed.
Anyway… Dan – good stuff!
Thanks for the great note. Some responses. Happy to dive deeper with you if you like.
On #1. Viktor Frankl quotation I was thinking of (from a 1984 Simon and Schuster paperback I have of _Man’s Search for Meaning_):
“Thus we see that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and there is indispensable to mental well-being. We should not, then, be hesitant about challenging man with a potential meaning for him to fulfill. . . I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, homeostasis, i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not a discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled in him.”
All in all, I guess I honor an “absence of tension,” Frank Costanza “Serenity Now!” kind of peace–but only up to a point. Great for immediate relief and potentially recharging one’s batteries, but I don’t think it’s a model for lasting or ever very fulfilling peace. I think the universe teaches us that most deep truths are paradoxical, and that we are well-served to keep all fruitful ideas even if they are (or seem to the conscious mind to be) in tension.
On #2. I definitely think Dennis would agree (he’s who I remember saying what you’re saying), and I think that the rest of us would also agree, though I’d not want to make someone’s decision to reject religion altogether too easy for them. I think there’s much to be gained through systems that guarantee we will be regularly challenged by others thinking and interpreting differently, with different personalities, etc. Religion offers that, and for those with temperaments capable of living in principled tension with others, I think religion can be a genuine school for growth. I don’t enjoy ideologues of any sort, and my sense is such persons generally become this way by really only hearing or learning to respect one side of things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve learned something very profound from people who come at life completely different from me, and I know I’d never have “truly” met them if we hadn’t been forced into situations where we have to interact.
On #3. Very sorry this is your lived experience in your wards and stakes. I recognize a lot of it, certainly having felt some hostility toward me when I share something that complicates an easy answer, and I imagine some would think they’d like church better without me in their field of potential influence, but my experience suggests that if you keep your ears open, you WILL hear some nuance here and there. One time in California, I was feeling lonely as we’d just moved into a new ward, when I heard a slight opening into something more profound than usual in a comment someone made, and so I called him up after church with an almost “Would you like to be my friend?” kind of phone call! We started hanging out a bit, and we became wonderful friends. And he, of course, was plugged into a few others in the ward with similar adventuresome souls, and soon I had a group to hang with and I slowly developed a place in that ward community. My wife and I to this day still consider our years in that ward as one of our two best ever ward experiences. I don’t know your personality, but I do have a strong trust that most Mormons really are hungry for just that little bit more (even though they don’t know it until they get a taste), and that you’ll be able to find them if you continue to search and send out the right signals (not only in how you share when you do, but also with smiles, body language, etc.). I know SS and priesthood meeting can be difficult in many ways (I still have bad, bad weeks when I have trouble with the level of discussion and just can’t find an opening for taking it in a more robust direction), but if you are only going to sacrament meeting each week, your odds of spotting a fellow traveler are much worse. Willing to try some additional meetings? AND, of course, you’re always welcome to engage here and in the various FB groups that center on the Open Stories podcasts. Happy to add you if you if you’re not already a member of those groups and have an interest in checking them out. Let me know.Best! Dan
Great job on the podcast, but just one criticism if I may (from another engineeer). I know it wasn’t intentional, but this discussion was a bit esoteric for me. Every once in a while I’d hear something that stood out to me as a real gem of a concept that I’d like to think about more, but the rest of the time I was just trying to figure out what the heck you guys were talking about. Makes me want to go pull out my old philosophy textbook so I can get up to speed.
My question is for Dennis Potter:
First, I want to apologize that I have not framed my
questions very well. I have given them
a lot of thought, but cannot seem to get them to flow in a cogent manner.
The ontological argument for the existence of God is
something I have been wrestling with for some time. The way you presented it (under the framework of the analytic distinction of truth) was
provoking. I am trying to wrap my mind
around it and need some help.
In the past I have understood the ontological argument as
The ontological argument for the existence of God states
that if the existence of God is even possible, then it follows that God
1) God by definition is a maximally great being. There can be nothing greater
2) A maximally great being would be one who is omniscient, omnipotent and
morally perfect in every possible world.
3) If it is possible that there is a being like that, it follows that there is
a possible world in which a maximally great being exists.
4) If a maximally great being exists in any possible world, it exists in all of
them – including the actual world.
1) Therefore, it follows that God exists.
2) So if God’s existence is even possible, it follows that God exists.
The atheist would have to not merely deny that God exists, but that it is even
possible for God to exist
With this view, doesn’t the
argument fall apart if the atheist does not concede to even the possibility
of God existing? If he out-right denies
the possibility, the argument doesn’t seem to work. Or am I unaware of some philosophical concept that links the two?
The way you presented the argument
was different. It was given as an
example to explain the analytic distinction of truth. You also presented the argument from the side of an atheist. You said:
”God is by definition, that which none greater can be conceived. Just given that definition, one can derive
God’s existence from it.
“Suppose you can’t derive God’s
existence from the above definition of God.
Suppose God doesn’t exist. One
has to affirm God doesn’t exist, which implies that one knows what they are
talking about. Which means that God is
the greatest conceivable being. Then one is conceiving of the greatest
conceivable being as not existing. He
would be greater if one conceived of Him as existing, therefore He exists”
My second set of questions deal
with your presentation of the ontological argument. You seem to be equivocating on your use of the word “conceive”;
please clarify. Why does one have to affirm God’s non-existence? Why does that affirmation of God’s
non-existence, “imply that one knows what they are talking about?” What does that even mean? It seems to me
that if you outright reject God as defined by
Saint Anselm, “Deus est qua
maius cogitari non potest. “ “God
is that, more than which cannot be conceived,” the argument has no
traction. Why would the atheist even
care about conceiving God as great? The
presuppositions don’t seem to lead me to the necessary conclusions.
By the way, by atheist I mean, “the
belief that God does not exist”, not, “not believing that there is a God”.
In my view, logically where you place the negation makes a world
Robert Winston, the British fertility research pioneer, said it well in, “I think the idea that a person who believes differently from you is necessarily ‘deluded’ an unconscionable position for a scientist to have”. This in comment to Richard Dawkins’s The God delusion.
He also did note that Dawkins makes valid points which believers need to address. Winston refused to officially out his agnosticism in the BBC podcast, as far as I understood him correctly. It was a longish podcast, though. Not as long as John’s.
The podcast can be downloaded/listened here, for example.
Just thought I’d throw another rock in and see how it ripples…
I like to read read about right and left ‘brain’ issues; i,e, the right brain is irrational, artistic, abstract, etc. and the left is more rational, logical, and likes concret ‘facts’. If I understand right, until about 1400 AD folks figured that important truth was ‘mystical’ (right brain) and mundane truth was just the stuff of normal life. Descarte and a few others turned that around and got our modern concept of scientific inquiry launched (left brain emphasis).
Maybe God still prefers to work with the right brain since it seems to most directly affect eternal life issues but we have distorted his ‘truths’ by interpreting them with our scientific left brains. ???
Enjoyed the podcast. Hard to listen to these sometimes because I feel like I want to be there talking with y’all.
the meaning of truth for me right now:
-the becoming – of individuals, couples, families, groups, communities, nations, worlds, universes, and all systems:
-the necessity of opposition in all things
-all things a compound in one
-unity AND diversity
-we believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things
-“where mercy love and justice meet in harmony divine” – Sister Snow
-weak things becoming strong
-the high being brought low
-the first shall be last and the last shall be first
-man/(woman) as nothing (Mosiah 4:11, Moses 1:10) AND man/(woman) as everything (D&C 132:19)
-nursing mothers AND fathers and priests AND priestess
-straight is the path and narrow is the way (a razor thin middle path – that we all fall off of – even in the very moment of describing it)
-the falling being a necessary catalyst for the next stage in becoming
-grace AND works
-repentance AND forgiveness
-experimenting on the word of faith, hope, AND Charity while acknowledging the reality of doubt, despair, AND pride (“sin”)
-subjectivity AND objectivity AND something beyond that I’m trying to understand
-letter AND spirit
-change AND acceptance and wisdom to be used in both
i use to have internal conflict to hear someone say “i know the church is true.” i used to go into my post modern righteousness and cynicism and scoff. that was good for me – probably necessary. right now it often rings true to hear someone say “i know the church is true” and i when i hear someone utter something that is meaningful and “true” to them i want to be willing to hear the music behind the words and the spirit behind the utterance – that’s where truth is for me and it exists only as an illusion outside of the moment. felt in very fleeting moments and then the remembrance of it and the rituals of remembrance become part of recreating new moments of truth.
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Thank you for another interesting discussion. My only concern was the apparent promotion of a dichotomy between choosing what is true and choosing what is healthy (or maybe I misunderstood this portion of the discussion.) If we choose a worldview that is true, then this would naturally lead to what is healthy and to what brings us happiness.
Due to its coherence, its correspondence to reality, and being based on authority, Christianity would seem to be the first, best choice in a worldview.