Putting Things on a Shelf

Hawkgrrrl Mormon 78 Comments

People like to talk about putting things that bother them about the church on a shelf.  Of course, the problem is that for some, the shelf gets pretty full and comes crashing down like Fibber McGee’s closet.  So what’s on your shelf, and is there a better model for dealing with problematic church doctrines?
The shelf analogy was actually used by Camilla Kimball:
Because of her family’s hospitality toward searching and studying, Sister Kimball says, “I’ve always had an inquiring mind. I’m not satisfied just to accept things. I like to follow through and study things out. I learned early to put aside those gospel questions that I couldn’t answer. I had a shelf of things I didn’t understand, but as I’ve grown older and studied and prayed and thought about each problem, one by one I’ve been able to better understand them.”
Things people talk about putting on a shelf include:
  • polygamy
  • priesthood ban
  • historical issues / MMM / Joseph Smith / BOM historicity / BOA / restoration detail discrepancies
Does the shelf analogy work or is there another way to look at this?
 
What about “cold cases”?  Detectives who investigate crimes sometimes talk about a “cold case,” a case that is unsolved and eventually abandoned as the leads go “cold.”  I think this analogy works even better (and doesn’t really contradict the shelf analogy).  Often a detective (on TV anyway) will periodically pull out a “cold case” and try one more time to solve it.  Sometimes, this works because:
  • experiences they’ve had as a detective since that case have given them new perspective
  • new evidence has emerged.  For example, DNA evidence and fingerprint evidence (and other forensic sciences) have changed substantially over the last decade, casting new light on old crimes.
  • similarities to subsequent crimes can change the overall understanding of the case
  • evidence relating to witnesses or suspects or even victims can emerge or change over time

So, this analogy works better for me, but also puts these issues in the realm of “hobby” in my mind.  These are issues that are a curiosity, something fun to explore, and while they are personally important to the individual, they may or may not be “solvable” or “conclusive” cases.  We just have to make a decision based on the evidence we have, or move on and revisit them later.  Once you’ve made a decision on a case, right or wrong, you tend to move on past it and work on another issue.

Does the “cold case” analogy work for you?  What are your cold cases?  Are there cold cases you’ve ultimately solved to your satisfaction or do you hang onto them and mull them over again every so often?  Discuss.

Comments

comments

Comments 78

  1. It seems to me that the root cause of needing to put things on the shelf is an inaccurate view of the nature of the universe. A more accurate view of the metaphysical realities of the universe ought to require fewer things being put on the shelf.

    I think your cold case analogy works pretty well. Updated theological assumptions can sometimes be the new lens through which our personal cold cases can be solved.

  2. Cold Cases? DNA Evidence! You sure this is the analogy you want for Book of Mormon historicity?

    What about the current Hot Cases? Compassion versus condemnation in the Prop 8 struggle?

    I prefer to shelf the shelf, ice the cold case, burn out on the hot cases and revert to simple honesty. It may be painful, but I think someone once said something about bringing a sword rather than peace. Who was that guy?

  3. These are issues that are a curiosity, something fun to explore, and while they are personally important to the individual, they may or may not be “solvable” or “conclusive” cases. We just have to make a decision based on the evidence we have, or move on and revisit them later. Once you’ve made a decision on a case, right or wrong, you tend to move on past it and work on another issue.
    I LOVE this, Hawkgrrl. It’s not that these aren’t issues that are important to us. But sometimes there is just no way to solve them with our current understanding. And if we bring them out again and work on them from time to time, we may be able to see them differently than we once did.

    For years I had an issue with the way something was put in the temple dialogue. Then one day I read something that changed my paradigm. I was able to dust off that cold case and look at it in a new way that didn’t bother me the way it once had. Case closed!

  4. Interesting question Hawkgrrrl. I confess I don’t like the shelf analogy. The “cold case” analogy is a bit better.

    The reason I don’t like the shelf is that it evokes a strange impression about life, and reality. It gives the impression that we “know” a few basic things are true, and even though we don’t understand the other things, we figure, at some point (after this life possibly), that we will be shown there was a perfectly good explanation for it all.

    But what if all the shelved “hobbies” were the indicators that you got it wrong? And in this vein, the “cold case” scenario is only mildly better. We could spend our whole lives convinced we have the “truth,” assuming there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the hard stuff. But, in the end, if it turns out we were wrong, then what?

    OTOH, I thoroughly recognize that making decisions quickly, without fully analyzing them is not good as well.

    I think the right solution is to tentatively accept and/or reject things, using all the tools, and faculties available to us, while remaining open to the possibility of “further light and knowledge.” I recognize that this is a rather unsatisfying result for those who demand certainty!

  5. As long as one can hope that the items on the shelf may ultimately be resolved — through better information or further revelation — then the “shelf” can work. The Church promises to be too rare a possession to be rejected lightly.

    But when the shelf items have aged long enough, and all the additional evidence you’re obtaining as you grow older tends not to dispel your doubts but to reinforce them, then at some point, your hope for a turnaround curdles, and you find yourself more and more seeing “faith” in those questionable doctrines as Mark Twain cynically defined “faith” — as “belief in things you know aren’t so.”

    When you have enough evidence that a thing is so, that you have to admit that if it were presented to you as a juryman, you would sentence a man to a life-changing punishment based on it, you cannot with integrity reject it in another context, because the answer is too painful to you.

    And it doesn’t help to put critical items on the shelf, when your hope that the questions will be resolved in the eternities. If “this life [is] a time to prepare to meet God,” then you must consider the possibility that refusing to go where the best understanding God has given you to obtain on a point, may have eternal consequences.

    In other words, the “shelf” works as a temporary measure, where the expiration date on the items you place there is necessarily the end of mortality. When you intentionally shelve things permanently, it’s a prescription for stagnation, self-deception, and infidelity to the God of Truth.

  6. I have recently gotten into Cold Case, because in the afternoons when I hit the office fitness center, that is usually the show that is on TBS. I think it’s a terrific metaphor, although frankly I see it as basically the same thing as the shelf. I think Camilla’s shelf idea has rightly been very influential. I am an advocate for this sort of thing.

    Take polygamy as an example. Say you’re bothered by that. Well, what have you read? If you haven’t even read Hardy’s documentary history, then you really have no business reaching a final, indelible conclusion on this subject until you roll up your sleeves and do some homework. And you can’t become well read on every issue immediately and simultaneously. It’s going to take time coupled with reflection and experience. So put it on the shelf (or in the cold case file room; there’s a shelf in there, too) and take it out from time to time to reexamine it in light of the further light and knowledge you’ve gained in the meantime.

  7. I’m made so I can’t really put things on the shelf. Maybe farther down in the search queue, but I’m always working on something based on relevance to my mission, or the impact the answer has on defining my mission.

    It leads to strange places — like having discussions with Mormons — I never expected to go. 😀

    Maybe taking things off the shelf IS expressing faith.

  8. The problem with all of this logic is that complex truths cannot be solved by reductionism, because it is the wrong tool in the toolbox. We seem to think that by analyzing all of the pieces, piece by piece that we will be able to discern the whole, which is actually greater than the sum of its parts. Furthermore, just because one piece that we look at with reductionist glasses is part of the whole, it doesn’t mean that it belongs there. The weeds are not the fruit of the garden. While someone may accuse me of circular thinking, the fact remains that we must build the correct understanding of the whole first before we can begin to slice it into its parts. And that understanding is a spiritual gift, not something that you can just claim to have with reasoning. Otherwise, we look at the parts without proper understanding, and they become overwhelming.

  9. @#8 SkepticTheist:

    I agree with your words, but I’m interpreting you to say that sharpening your skills at such reductionist logic won’t necessarily help to get your problems off the shelf. Maybe it’s the failure of reductionist analysis that causes someone to shelve an idea to begin with. The ensuing years or decades or experience and nuanced consideration may then allow that someone to view the shelved idea from a new perspective and see the wisdom or beauty or truth in it that he couldn’t see before.

  10. Barney (#9),

    Precisely. But there is more on a spiritual level. This is the problem why most people who are confronted with things they can’t understand end up as NOM types and have their faith shaken, and don’t remain fundamentally TBMs. Because though they may have had the beginnings of a testimony, they didn’t simply as the Lord for the gift of discernment, and didn’t obey the principles on which that gift is based in order to secure it as a blessing from God, before they started wading into complex truths.

  11. My problem with the shelf/cold case analogy is that it only works in a certain situation – that of someone who already knows that they are going to be faithful to the Church regardless of really anything else. If something comes out that supports the foregone conclusion, it is clung to as “evidence” of truth. If it contradicts the foregone conclusion, it is put on the shelf. Underlying all of this is an assumption as to the truthfulness of something, essentially regardless of evidence. In my opinion, this is purely due to the grace of God. Either someone has had an experience profound enough that they will ignore contrary evidence or they haven’t. It’s not something that we can force. It just is.

    Several dangers:

    – If everyone in the world did the same thing in regards to their belief systems, missionary work wouldn’t exist. If people simply ignored things about their belief systems that were uncomfortable, they’d never change.

    – We may be able to make something into a “cold case”, but the world certainly doesn’t. We can ignore polygamy all we want because it’s uncomfortable, but it is something that any potential investigator is going to have to come to grips with. If we ignore it and don’t put it in our teaching manuals and don’t help people come up with at least a rational approach to it, it can (and maybe has) slow down missionary work as people easily find all of the things that we have “placed on a shelf”, but we’re not prepared to talk about.

  12. #6 — The problem with the logic of “you can’t reject something if you haven’t studied it exhaustively” is that by that logic, you can’t reject Catholicism unless you’ve read Summa Theologica, the Catechism, the current Canon Law, and a Ph.D’s worth of Catholic apologetics.

    #8 SkepticTheist, the problem I have with this line of argument (I see it often used by religious apologists and philosophical relativists) is that I firmly believe that it sells our God-given reason short. It is not the only tool in the toolbox, but it’s not the “wrong” one, either. At least, it’s only the “wrong” tool when one attempts to use it alone — without the added key of faith and faith-trusted revelation.

    “Because though they may have had the beginnings of a testimony, they didn’t simply as the Lord for the gift of discernment, and didn’t obey the principles on which that gift is based in order to secure it as a blessing from God, before they started wading into complex truths.” — And this is why, as we discussed earlier, there will always be tension between those of your temperament and others. You don’t mean to condescend, but you simply can’t help yourself. It is built into your intellectual DnA, just as calling the other side “Racist!” is built into the conventional-wisdom liberal’s. What you call the “gift of discernment,” I call Gnosticism — a mechanism by which your subjective intuition is elevated (by your inherent virtue) above others’, which leads them to contrary conclusions from yours.

    It’s not my place to judge which of us has better sought the gift of discernment, or been more obedient to the Gospel, but I am fully willing to let God judge between us in that department.

    “We seem to think that by analyzing all of the pieces, piece by piece that we will be able to discern the whole, which is actually greater than the sum of its parts.” The second half of that statement is true — but that says nothing about the utility of sometimes carefully examining all of the pieces, as well as our overall impression of the whole. A classic example is the “face on Mars.” An early, low-resolution image of the Martian surface revealed something which looked remarkably like a human face. Really, the similarity was simply too pronounced for it to have occurred by coincidence. It must have been sculpted by intelligent Martians.

    Not so fast, of course. A later, higher-resolution image of the object revealed more detail — the “parts” of which the “whole” image was made. It was clear, on examining the parts, that they were natural rock formations.

    What I hear you saying (and doubtless I don’t have the right ears to hear) is that you should “go with your gut” and leap to conclusions based on your first impression of the overall image. That’s not always a bad idea. Obviously no man is humanly capable of getting anything close to a complete picture of any issue; our perceptions are colored very much by factors we haven’t chosen, or are not conscious enough. And yet I believe that it is our obligation — and a real possibility — to become aware, as much as possible, of what we are thinking and why. “The glory of God is intelligence,” not the subconscious. There will always be a subconscious, involuntary, unreasoned aspect to my thinking, but I believe it is my duty to increase the sphere of my mind, my will, and my conscious spirit as much as God gives me the power to do.

  13. Mike S, That is what a testimony is, is spiritual evidence that is the mere kindling to the fire that eventually grows into perfect understanding. The problem is, to ignore spiritual gifts as the key to complex truths means that one ends up not feeding the fire, but puts it out

  14. I think of a back burner where things are simmering, not forgotten, or set aside, or hidden away, or denied, or obsessed over to the exclusion of everything else. Most of the articles I’ve published over the years came about because my awareness of something simmering in the background prepared me to recognize the significance of new information. And besides my own occasional contributions, I’ve kept my eyes opened and enjoyed the benefit of the labor of others in the vast kitchen. The movement from back burner to front burner and the delicious dishes that come about remains my chief intellectual pleasure in Mormonism.

    For a specific example, I had a simmering question about the similarity of Alma’s conversion and Paul’s. The work I did for my Sunstone talk and JBMS 2/1 essay on NDE research and the Book of Mormon happened in response. Some years after, I heard Howard Storm speak, recognizing a modern day Alma. It turned out it wasn’t a matter of Alma and Paul being too special. They turned out to be entirely typical on the most important issues. For another, I had an investigator complain about the unrealistic conversion scene at the start of Mosiah. Not everyone would have converted, he insisted. People aren’t like that. I didn’t have a good answer, but the question was important in helping me recognize the importance of what I read in Nibley’s Approaching the Book of Mormon a year later, the chapter on “Old World Ritual in the New World,” giving a coronation context in which everything made sense. The one serious issue I had, where a question never made it to the back burner, but boiled up front for the three days it took me to see something helpful, became my Dialogue essay, my first published contribution to LDS letters. More recently, I came to appreciate Margaret Barker’s essay on “The Original Background of the Fourth Servant Song”, making a case for Isaiah 53 having been written in response to Hezekiah’s bout with the plague. Margaret had written quite a lot about Isaiah, Second Isaiah, and Third Isaiah, some of which I found very useful on other grounds. But this offered some expected and persuasive help on the Isaiah question in the Book of Mormon, at least relative to that key chapter.

    As the resolutions pile up over time, that enhances my perspective for weighing the import of stuff that remains or arrives. Now I think it’s just a matter of giving things time, keeping my eyes open, and re-examining my own assumptions now and then.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  15. Thomas, as always, as we just got through with on the previous thread on rationalism, I have to default to my own perceptions, and have skepticism aimed at all else. I’m not judging you, and I refuse to enter this argument further. But it is you that must remove yourself from taking offense at people’s line of thinking that seems to exclude yours. Differences in opinion are not equivalent to condescension or superiority complex. Dogmatism is something that is the direct result of coming to a firm conclusion.

    Here’s the perfect example. Mesoamericanist scholars who favor a Mesoamerican Cumorah setting will not acknowledge my rationality in my belief for a New York Cumorah regardless of how well I argue my case? Why? Because they are not taking into account a complex truth, and are applying reductionism to the case. But I “leaped” by getting a testimony in the New York Cumorah long before my analysis of the Book of Mormon was entirely rational, and I built the US heartland theory around the testimony of Cumorah, which Rod Meldrum and others grabbed on to, and I left behind. It was only later that I came to realize that it is actually a New York Cumorah and a Land Southward in Mesoamerica where the truth actually lies, that is, in my perception. But those that explain away everything I say, because it is impossible for Coriantumr to have gone from New York to Mesoamerica for them. Yet they face the same problem in reverse with Moroni’s wanderings with their own model. So while Moroni’s wanderings become more simple with a New York Cumorah, in that he didn’t have to go far, more complexity is introduced with Coriantumr’s wanderings back down southward. Yet they forget their own complexities that they most easily explain away, while my complexities for my position become “impossibilites” for them. But it is because I had the key to understanding the complex truth before I started out, and my polemics has centered around its defense.

  16. I suppose different people may take things off the shelf based on different criteria. For some, a plausible, if not completely accurate, explanation may be enough to “dismiss” an issue that is on the shelf. It may not be a fully rational answer, but it may be enough for that believer.

    I like the shelf exercise, but I acknowledge it presupposes a disposition toward faith and acceptance. That it does not work for everyone does not preclude that it works for me.

    My own experience is that some questions go on the shelf. And some questions I simply decide I no longer have energy to pursue (perhaps those are the ones that end up as cold cases later on when a new spark of interest or information draws me back to them unawares). And that, I believe, is part of the faith that one has.

  17. There are also cases of things that seem of immediate and paramount importance that cannot be answered and are shelved, which when examined 25 years later turn out to be not nearly as earth-shattering as we had thought. In such cases, even if we don’t arrive at an answer, the “shelving” has allowed us to gain new perspective on the conundrum such that we don’t see it as being so threatening or dire as we had before, and become more comfortable with not knowing. For many, I think, polygamy is an example of just this phenomenon.

  18. Thomas no. 12, if you want to reject something without studying it at all, that’s fine by me. It’s no skin off my nose. But this shelf metaphor usually arises in the context of members who love the Church and really want to believe, but they trip over something they’re not prepared for and can’t immediately make sense of. And in that context, it strikes me as a tragic waste for such a person to lose faith and chuck it all without even cracking a journal article or a book. An awful lot of people have travelled that road before them, and there’s much wisdom to be had there, if they’ll only make an effort. For example, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought has been publishing four issues a year since 1966. That’s almost 45 years worth of experience and wisdom on challenging issues. I can’t imagine giving up without looking to see what those who have gone before me have had to say on such and such a concern. I’ve gone to that sort of well and it has worked for me, many, many times, but perhaps that’s just my personality.

  19. #18 K.Barney — Who said anything about “without studying it at all?

    I would say that it would be foolish to reject something without studying it “at all,” but then I guess I’d have to call myself a fool — because there are plenty of things I reject without knowing anything useful about them. Anarcho-syndicalism as an economic theory, for instance. I know nothing about it but the name, and that it’s generally understood as conflicting with the economic system I do ascribe to. Based on that last point, I reject it more or less by default.

    Similarly — although I know a bit more about Islam than absolutely nothing — I’m sure most serious students of Islam would say I haven’t given it a fair shake. Elder Holland knows for darn sure the Athanasian Creed is ridiculous — without, manifestly, ever giving it enough of an examination to recognize that he misinterpreted the word “incomprehensible” in it in a Conference address.

    We all reject a great deal without understanding it. Our basic limitation is that none of us has infinite time and energy for study. I’m not inclined to believe that God, who is no respecter of persons, established a salvation model such that the Gospel will appear rationally defensible only to Masters-level scholars, or people who have the discretionary time to read entire documentary histories of polygamy and everything else that comes up. If the Church’s foundational claims either require a position of near-ignorance, or super-deep scholarship, to remain viable, what about people in the “donut hole” — the class of people whose circumstances allow them just enough access to information, and the ability to process it, to notice the relatively straightforward apparent problems in the LDS doctrinal corpus, but lack the ability to process the more elaborate apologetic explanations?

    Maybe this is an application of the maxim “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Maybe it really is better to be either basically ignorant, or magnificently educated, and once you leave the “ignorance” bank you better swim really hard until you come out dripping wet on the Hugh Nibley side. Apropos maybe of nothing, this parallels the relationship between people’s political persuasions and their education: The GED types are all Democrats; the college grads tend Republican, and then the graduate scholars turn (overwhelmingly) Democrat again.

  20. To answer Hawk’s first question:

    The creation of life and the dwelling place of God certainly are on my shelf. Actually, for these two, I like the simmering burner analogy a bit better, since I actually do think about them on a fairly regular basis.

    How sexual identity and gender play out in the eternities are on my shelf. I pull them down periodically and re-examine them – but I think I’ve reached my own, personal conlcusions and decided to put them on a separate shelf primarily. I’m not sure I’ll ever take them off the shelf in this life, so I focus more on trying to address those issue as they play out in this life.

    Frankly, that’s one of my main approaches to shelf issues – letting the eternal questions rest while I focus on the mortal issues. It keeps me from focusing so much on the intellectual and future that I ignore the practical and immediate.

  21. I wonder what it means exactly to “put things on a shelf.”

    Does it mean that you choose to stop being concerned about something?

    That they still concern you but that you choose not to spend time trying to figure them out?

    That they concern you, that you spend time trying to figure them out, but that you choose not to worry about it if you haven’t found answers?

    That they concern you, that you’ve spent time trying to figure them out, that you’ve found answers, but the answers contradict the official “right” answers so you choose to ignore your answers?

    That they concern you, that you’ve spend time trying to figure them out, you’ve found answers, the answers contradict the official “right” answers, that you accept and embrace your unorthodox answer, but you still choose to be active in the church despite the fact you don’t think it’s True?

    All of the above?

  22. Thomas, I was simply trying to correct your mischaracterization of my position as “you can’t reject something if you haven’t studied it exhaustively” (requiring multiple Ph.D. type knowledge). In my experience, a lot of people who freak out about something don’t make much of an effort at all to learn about that issue. Ample resources are usually available, but I’ve found that most Mormons simply aren’t readers, and they don’t have the patience to learn a little bit about the subject that troubles them so.

  23. Ray, I think most of the time on undetermined issues, it is best to build your own theology anyway without waiting to put them on the shelf, a personal theology that may get overturned with future revelation. But still, one should go through the development process in one’s mind of one’s own theology.

  24. #15 SkepticTheist, maybe I just have too much West Virgiana Epperson hillbilly in me, but when somebody says that unless I’ve reached his conclusions, it’s because I’ve been too disobedient to obtain his “gift of discernment,” we’re gonna have us some friendly wrasslin’. There is just no way not to take that as an assertion of moral and spiritual superiority. Gird up your loins, summon up your inner Hillaire Belloc and damn me as heretic. I won’t bite…much. Clarity is better than courtesy.

    I believe your basic error is not in “defaulting to your own perceptions,” but in defaulting to what appears to be an unexamined confidence in what you interpret what you have perceived as having communicated to you.

    You believe that you must be skeptical of others’ pretensions to have obtained strong mystical experiences, because you interpret such experiences as irrefutable evidence of the exclusive truth of your sectarian doctrine. If that interpretation is correct, then I agree with you: What you have experienced yourself, is better evidence to you than what another person claims to have experienced. Even accounting for the possibility of self-deception, as a general rule, you are better able to know whether you are lying, than you are able to know if someone else is. So yes: If what you have perceived spiritually necessarily conflicts with someone else claiming a similar perception in support of his own religion, then you ought to give precedence to your own mind.

    I’m just interested in hearing your explanation as to why what you have perceived mystically, must conflict with another person’s mystical experience. Why is it not possible that what you have experienced in connection with Mormonism, and what a Catholic mystic has experienced in connection with Catholicism, is the same thing: a divine assurance that some component of your tradition, and her tradition, is divine truth, which is what triggers the mystical experience, and that your pursuit of God down the line of spiritual inquiry you’re following is aimed in the right direction?

    I choose to believe that the things I choose to believe were revealed to me spiritually, are such an assurance, namely, that God is pleased for me to seek him in my received Mormon religion. If anyone can offer a convincing reason to take them for something more exclusively supportive of Mormonism, I’m listening.

  25. #22 – Yup, ultimately that’s what I do with pretty much everything – build a personal theology that’s subject to change with further light and knowledge, using all the resources available to me, including my own heart, mind and experiences. I use what I call “pure Mormonism” as the general outline (a subjective term, I know), since it’s expansive enough, imo, to accommodate FAR more perspectives than most members realize.

  26. I think the two of you agree more than you think you do.

    (That sounds like a good Princess Bride line. At least it can be seen as having been influenced by PB, so it has to be true. Right?)

  27. Thomas, it is precisely because I have continued to take seriously what the Holy Ghost tells me on first impressions and stuck with them that my life has turned out has it has. I’ll take my own experience that has followed in the pattern of my own patriarchal blessing after having given heed to such things thus far as evidence that I need to be skeptical of you, and believing in the course that has led me. I’m sorry that you are so bound and determined to get me to damn you when I have no authority. Go to Jesus for your damnation/exaltation issues and live and let live, and leave me alone about that.

    I perceive nothing mystically. I don’t believe in mysticism. I believe in natural law, and rituals that are tokens of covenants, not magic tricks. God has a job for me to do in life that is not the same as yours. I again have no choice but to be where God puts me in life, and accept naively the fact that he is guiding me in spite of your over-complicating things that are simple. This is where reductionism is appropriate, in cutting to the case that a testimony is a testimony is a testimony. And the more I have followed it, the more I have built in myself the ability to discern it for what it is, and be in tune without being distracted by noise, such as what comes from the likes of you.

  28. I’m much more satisfied with the “simmering on the backburner” analogy, because I think more accurately reflects the way we respond to these issues. When I cleaned out my basement a few weeks ago I was surprised at some of the things I found, that I had completely forgotten were there. This sort of sounds like what the shelf analogy would imply, this idea that we can store something for later without having it affect us. The fact is, contradictions that exist in the way we percieve the world do affect us, even if we try and ignore them. At times we can shift those matters to other positions on the stove in order to give priorities to other things, but they are always there simmering. Still, a simmering pot generally doesn’t need emergency priority, and in that way I think Keven Barney has a reasonable tack. While it’s simmering, go back to the cook books and see if you can’t find out what’s wrong with your recipe. At the same time, this can be a delicate process that could look more like fudging the numbers rather than carefully evaluating the evidence. Regardless, what I think is appropriate of any of the “shelving” anologies is the idea that matters don’t need to be rushed. On the other hand they do need to be addressed because the way our minds work is that once a problem enters it can’t leave. It can only be resolved are result in a restructuring of our world view.

  29. All of the pots on my back burners boiled over and the closet shelved items came tumbling down just like the cartoon shows, and the cold case files which had all been scanned into a computer, well, the computer imploded and all the data was lost; all of this happened when I thought the other night about my in-depth study during the past 3 years. I was taking a sort-of sabbatical these last 3 years to take some things off the shelf, and I couldn’t come to terms with the theodicy that seems common to Mormonism, that even in the best circumstance, I leave this world, become a God, and 1/3 of my spirit children choose evil and leave, and the other 2/3 come to earth with so little knowledge that they fumble with pots on back burners and shelved items and cold case files. It’s all so futile, it seemed. Thank heavens for Fridays (it can’t come too soon).

  30. Mysticism (from the Greek μυστικός, mystikos, an initiate of a mystery religion)[1] is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight.”

    Call subjective personal experiences with the Spirit of God “mysticism” or whatever else you like, but the above definition seems to fit.

  31. I think putting things on a shelf / backburner / parking lot / whatever we’re calling it is a better option than what we encourage most members to do: “don’t worry about it.”

    Just today I was in a conversation with two members about a topic that could be considered fringe doctrine. The first member and I were having a good discussion, but about three minutes after we were joined by the other person, he was almost chiding us by saying, “Everything you need to know for your salvation has already been revealed. There’s no reason to worry about deeper doctrine.”

    When I was young and a little more of an authority-fearing member, I did that. Whenever I was challenged by someone who wanted an answer on carbon dating of dinosaur fossils, blacks and the priesthood or any number of easily challenged positions of Mormonism or Christianity in general, I responded the same way my friend did today: “I don’t know, but we don’t need to know. Don’t worry about it.”

    Problem is, that position is faith-eroding over time. I’d much rather approach it Camilla’s way and say, “hey, I may not understand this now, but I aspire to understand it some day. In the meantime, this is an opportunity to exercise my faith.” That’s a better response than just giving up and putting the blinders back on.

  32. Very well Thomas, you could call my “mystical” experiences with the Holy Ghost mystical if you want. I hate the usual connotations of the word, so I don’t use it.

  33. Kevin Barney,

    I really like you, so I say this out of all sincerity and not out of any desire to be contrarian. When you say this:

    “Take polygamy as an example. Say you’re bothered by that. Well, what have you read? If you haven’t even read Hardy’s documentary history, then you really have no business reaching a final, indelible conclusion on this subject until you roll up your sleeves and do some homework.”

    This just feels like an apologist’s stalling tactic to keep you in the church. It’s akin to saying, “You can’t conclude anything yet because you have to do a mountain of research first, and we all know you don’t have time to do a mountain of research, so best to just stay the course in the meantime.”

    That argument, if given and accepted in any other religious community, be it FLDS, Scientologist, Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh-day Adventist, Christian Scientist, etc., really only serves to keep people within their own church. I doubt we’d be equally inclined to tell our FLDS friends, “Hey, don’t go jumping to any hasty conclusions about Warren Jeffs because there are loads of historical documents you need to sift through before you can conclusively reject his claim to priesthood succession.”

    While I personally don’t think it’s wise to ever come to a “final, indelible conclusion” about anything, at the same time, not everything requires extensive research to come to a [pretty solid but tentative] conclusion that it’s [almost certainly] hogwash. For example, I can comfortably say that no amount of research will make me comfortable with the fact that someone who claimed to be God’s One True Prophet married 14, 15, and 16 year-old girls when he was at least 20 years older than all of them — regardless of whether that man is Warren Jeffs or Joseph Smith.

    I think rather than trying to endlessly stall people from coming to the conclusion that so much of what we were taught growing up in the church is hogwash, it’s more productive for us to come to grips with the fact that it’s hogwash but that there are still plenty of reasons to stick with it.

  34. I think there are a lot of great suggestions here for how to work your own “cold cases.” I don’t spend nearly enough time scanning through Dialogue, although there are some great things there. One problem is that the easy stuff to wade through is often lower quality in scholarship, so depending on how much time you have to devote to your tinkering or how urgently you want to “solve” your case – you might get a different result. You really do have to apply discernment to assess the quality of the source material, be it apologetics or at the other end of the apologetics spectrum, sites like mormonthink.

    I certainly agree that there’s a tendency to assume we know it was Miss Scarlet in the Conservatory with the Candlestick without obtaining all the clues from the other sources (and heck, half the clue cards may even be missing). Knowing how little we know is also part of the process.

  35. Andrew – I agree to an extent with your point, that the tendency is to reinforce status quo. But my own perspective is that regardless the action you take (or your choice toward inaction), it doesn’t mean you’ve really solved the case – you just decided what you were going to do about it. That would really depend on how important that case is to you overall.

    This is one reason that I see a disconnect between belief and action. We act the way we act for whatever reasons we use to explain our actions. People say their actions are dictated by their beliefs, but I am not convinced. That’s just how they explain their reasons for taking the actions they took. Beliefs are not deliberate choices; they are the byproduct of thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Our actions are deliberate choices.

  36. “I certainly agree that there’s a tendency to assume we know it was Miss Scarlet in the Conservatory with the Candlestick without obtaining all the clues from the other sources (and heck, half the clue cards may even be missing). Knowing how little we know is also part of the process.”

    Again, let’s apply this same argument in another religious context. Say, the context of an FLDS girl struggling with her faith in the FLDS system: “I know it seems so messed up, dear, but half of the clue cards are missing; God’s ways are not our ways; by the way, have you read the entire Journal of Discourses and all the historical documents about the Woolley’s? If not, you sure are jumping to hasty conclusions. There might be a needle in the haystack you haven’t found yet that will explain everything for you. Endure to the end. Have faith, don’t doubt. Doubt is from the Devil. This is a test of your faith, prove yourself faithful. Satan works the hardest on the elect, and you’re one of the elect” and on and on and on and on.

    If we can easily recognize that as an elaborate series of Jedi Mind Tricks in the FLDS context, why can we not recognize it as being the same in an LDS context?

  37. Andrew – “If we can easily recognize that as an elaborate series of Jedi Mind Tricks in the FLDS context, why can we not recognize it as being the same in an LDS context?” Because our thoughts, feelings and experiences with FLDS are at best neutral, but more likely negative (based on media accounts and the lack of fashion sense of the FLDS, if nothing more personal). We have more thoughts, feelings and experiences with our own religion, some of those positive, some negative. I’m only saying that people will believe what they will based on those thoughts, feelings, and experiences. We don’t believe people we consider unreliable based on our thoughts, feelings and experiences. And yes, people can misplace their trust or their distrust.

  38. I don’t perceive what I suggest as an endless stall tactic. Take the example I used, Carmon Hardy’s documentary history of polygamy. I used that example specifically because it’s a pretty complete, self-contained collection of documents relative to the Mormon practice of polygamy. That’s one book. If a person won’t even read one book, I question how badly that person really wants to learn about the subject.

    If someone will at least put that minimal effort into understanding the history, theology, practice and context of Mormon polygamy, and still concludes from that study that the Church isn’t what it claims to be and decides to leave, fine by me. I just hate to see people making that decision from a position of ignorance.

  39. With the world crashing down, I put everything on the shelf these days. The immediate future is much more interesting and much more telling than the distant past of Mormonism. When the daisies are blooming again on the economy and our political unrest begins to amp down, perhaps I’ll dust off the Journal of Discourses again.

  40. But my own perspective is that regardless the action you take (or your choice toward inaction), it doesn’t mean you’ve really solved the case – you just decided what you were going to do about it.

    I think this is an important distinction to make. The danger, as Andrew has pointed out is concluding that one has solved the case indefinitely. From that perspective it sounds like you’re saying the same thing to some degree.

    The threshold at which I, or you, or anyone takes action based on said belief (or doubt) will undeniably be different.

    For me, these things really boil down to confidence (probability). I think there are few people who would not allow ANY evidence to persuade them of their favorite ideology. Imagine how many people would leave if the prophet got up and renounced everything. For me, this really means that we all, more or less, base our “knowledge” our “cases” our “actions” on confidence theory. We act in accordance with what we deem most probable given the evidence/beliefs/culture/personality/etc. that we have. In this context, shelving things is like saying that we are, as yet, unwilling to act on our a posteriori confidence because we haven’t gotten enough data samples. Others, who perhaps have read more, or maybe just have lower thresholds for taking action will conclude that their confidence is sufficiently robust.

    Discussions on this topic, that do not acknowledge such a paradigm and/or inductive reasoning in that vein leave my head spinning. We end up battling over semantics or metaphors, concluding we disagree, when in fact what we really mean is that we differ in the threshold at which we conclude certain things, or take certain actions. Bringing the discussion to a level playing field avoids superiority complexes in which we belittle those who haven’t studied enough, or don’t have enough faith. It also lets us talk plainly about changing the threshold at which one should conclude the church is, or is not true, avoiding labels like “apostate,” “apologist,” “disaffected,” etc. But I digress. I’ll take my pet theory and save it for a post!

  41. This is a great subject. I appreciate the comments. There is a lot of wisdom expressed. I’d like to add my two cents.

    I understand the need to deal with difficult, troubling, perplexing questions with doctrine, history, and practices. I have many questions, however, none of them trouble my faith–feeding doubt. I am content leaving them on the shelf. On occasion, I’ll pull one down and reopen a study in the light of new evidence.

    However, there are things that do trouble me. I am troubled by the fact that so many church members struggle with approaching the Lord with “full purpose of heart”.

    Another way of saying this is, that the Lord gives us the opportunity to climb spiritual mountains in order to acquire the Holy Ghost and the accompanying gifts of the Spirit. But, alas, many of us are content to walk about in the foothills satisfied with the lesser portion of those things God offers us. We do the works of honorable men and women, but we suffer with a “valiancy deficiency”.

    We put the first principles of the gospel (repentance, faith in Christ, seeking diligently for the gift of the Holy Ghost) on the shelf and spend the bulk of our time seeking for the riches of money, social status, intellectual obtainment, and the like. Fasting and prayer, carrying for the poor and needy, temple work, gospel study, and the like–are chores that need to be rushed because important activities are waiting.

    I know there are those who will say that they feel they have paid the price to obtain answers to prayer; but believe the heavens are closed to them. I accept what they say, but wonder if this isn’t a test the Lord has given them, part of climbing a mountain faith. I pray they will stay as close to the Lord as they can. I hope they will take the first principles of the gospel off the shelf and reapply them in a diligent effort to draw nearer to the Lord.

    For myself, I’m concerned that compared to what the Lord has given me, I am far behind what I could be.

  42. Uh, Hey everyone — Ulysseus here sitting on the shelf you all stuck me on. Yes, I was glib. Yes I was quoting Jesus — all things to get me ignored.

    I remember another guy that said that if things aren’t meshing, you study it out and figure it out for yourself. Ended up with a whole religion, but that spring morning in 1820 he didn’t put it on the shelf.

    My response was this: shelving issues is a bad idea; the cold case analogy a bad idea. The only good option is addressing issues head on with honesty and openness, except that you get put on a shelf from those who aren’t willing to explore.

  43. I think Ulysseus raises a good point, but for me it sparks another question. Why do we feel either the need to shelve or attack issues head on? I think this get’s to the core of what is going on. After a little more thought, shelving issues could make sense for someone who as essentially made up their mind that they wish to be affiliated with Mormonism. This could be for a number of reasons, but the gist is they are content, or really do believe that in sum the Church is true. In which case the shelf could be reinforced with an acceptance of the notion that everything actually does work out, they just haven’t gotten it all figured out. Conversely, those who feel the need to attack the issues head on, could be admitting that in fact, they don’t “know” if/that the Church is true. In which case the shelf can quickly become over burdened. I don’t think that the issues ever go away if they remain unresolved, but the individuals thresholds, as per jmb275, could be largely determined by our priors.

  44. This all strikes me as remarkably positivist for a bunch of cool postmodern types–why are we speaking as if truth were “out there” and the only possibility is to confront it or ignore it? “Knowledge” is created in community. Most of us, whether we like to acknowledge it or not, choose to know mostly the wisdom of the communities to which we want to belong. If belonging to the Mormon (or FLDS or JW or DAMU or whatever) community is important to us, we’ll find a way to bracket (or shelve) the knowledge constituted in other communities of belief, as well as knowledge that is too threatening to be tolerated in our primary community of belonging.

  45. Who said we were “cool postmodern types”? I kind of like it, but I think the fact that this is “Mormon Matters” and we are acting like a bunch of positivists is completely predictable. Moroni 10:4-5 and James 1:5 is classic positivist doctrine (as defined by Mormons).

    The more Mormon you are, the more you are seeking truth — kind of comes with the territory. I think that is my answer to Cowboy, too. You see extremes because the culture demands it — either say it is all true or challenge everything. Is there a middle ground? Sure, but it is boring.

  46. Re: “cool postmodern types” — what you mean “we,” kemo sabe?

    Postmodernism is the worst of all heresies, and Mormons who use its methods in supposed defense of the faith — going beyond merely recognizing reason’s limitations, into virtually denying its utility altogether — are in damnable company. There is a Truth, notwithstanding that it’s hard to find, that all of us are influenced by unconscious prejudices, and none of us ever reach it fully in mortality.

    The fact that we are typing here, using keyboards made from a magic material synthesized from oil pumped out of fields discovered by geologists standing on the shoulders of heretics, shoving electrons around a ridiculously fast network, speaks to the absolute truth that if you are faithful enough in setting aside your preconceptions and biases and work honestly to discover the truth, you can discover enough of it to do astonishing things.

  47. To be intellectually alive doesn’t mean one is spiritually dead. There are plenty of examples in the church of those who are intellectually alive and also alive in Christ.

    Hugh Nibley, for instance, was losing his faith, he was intellectually alive without question, but struggling with the spiritual. If I recall correctly, he made it a matter of prayer. He had an out of body experience during surgery and never again doubted again. From there he became the man we know about.

  48. 42, Ulysses — It’s true Joseph asked and was answered. But his account suggests he didn’t ask when he had the first whisper of a question. He also visited other denominations and thought through his choices. In fact, he’d nearly made a choice when he then took up the suggestion of James 1:5.

    Not every answer needs to come today. Some can come tomorrow or next week or next year.

    21 Andrew — for me, things go on the shelf when I have a question that I make an effort to answer and cannot. My inability to answer a particular question is weighed against what I already have accepted, and what already supports my faith. If my faith can continue while the new question sits on the shelf, then I may let the question sit there a while.

    One might wonder how long to work on the question before shelving it. Now (in the middle years of life) I think differently about that question than I did when I was in college. In my younger years, I had considerably more time and energy to devote to my searching. Now I am more content to wait on some matters. I think the other reason I’m more content to wait these days is that it’s worked so well for me over the years to do so, meaning in many instances, questions I’ve have have gotten resolved, not because I specifically sought resolution, but because I happened to read or hear something that gave me a new clue toward resolution.

    I don’t necessarily view the shelf as a place of defeat or even a time out for the question at hand, but rather a holding place until more information becomes available. For me, so far, The Big One That Would Stop My Faith In What I’ve Already Learned hasn’t come, yet, so the shelf works just fine.

  49. Just out of curiosity, for TBM members (although I hate that term but can’t think of another one) – is there ANYTHING that the current prophet could say or ANYTHING you could find out related to a prior leader of the Church all the way back to Joseph Smith that would cause you to reconsider, or would anything you couldn’t “digest” be automatically put on the shelf or back burner? If so, what would that be and how significant?

  50. #46: “Postmodernism is the worst of all heresies, and Mormons who use its methods in supposed defense of the faith — going beyond merely recognizing reason’s limitations, into virtually denying its utility altogether — are in damnable company.”

    What about us LDS folk who have found some useful ideas from certain postmodernist writers, some of whom don’t really label themselves as ‘postmodern’ anyway, and some of whom see a problem with acting like “postmodernism” is some sort of single, unified, systematic approach? You seem to believe we have to choose between utter empiricism or utter relativism. (You might not think that is the case, but your comment certainly suggests it). That’s a false dichotomy, imo. (But perhaps by so saying I am outing myself as one of the heretical “postmodernists” I hear so much about!)

    Hawkgrrrrl, thanks for the interesting discussion, it has given me a lot to think about.

  51. #48, Paul, your comment reminded me of these comments from Hugh Brown:

    “I think the expression “Keep it cool” is peculiar to your age, but it means in reality “Do not be impatient.” Too many young people are so impatient that when they press an electric button, they can’t wait for the answer. They think there is a gap somewhere, and they think it is because of the old folks that don’t know enough to press the button.

    Historians, philosophers, and scientists all agree that life on this earth has been and is one continuous, never-ceasing process of readjustment.”

    “An Eternal Quest: Freedom of the Mind,” Address at Brigham Young University, May 13, 1969.
    http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/2008/08/eternal-quest-freedom-of-mind.html

    Similar comments from Pres. Uchtdorf in a CES fireside, “The Reflection in the Water,” http://tinyurl.com/yztrrwx.

  52. Mike S: you’ve asked one of what I somewhat jokingly called “the secularist’s golden questions.”

    * If the church isn’t true, would you want to know?

    * What could persuade you that the church isn’t true?

    You didn’t ask the first one, so I’ll leave it alone for now. The second question deals with what evidence one would accept that would convince one that the church isn’t what it claims to be. This is a bit tricky because the one asking the question and the one being asked may have different expectations about the reliability and weight of various types of evidence. Maybe I could respond by asking “well what have you got?” Or I could answer by saying “I would accept absolute, solid, incontrovertible, decisive, evidence,” but what would that be? Perhaps a better underlying question would be “what can count as evidence of truth?”

  53. BHodges — My thinking on postmodernism is basically “Can any good thing come out of France? Except maybe Roquefort?” If a philosopher’s name includes an “r” you have to swallow (and his name isn’t Soren Kierkegaard), my basic presumption is he’s a pretentious little dweeb. (Looking at you, Jean-Paul.)

    When I talk about “postmodernism,” I have in mind the tendency of many postmodernists to exaggerate the unreliability of reason. I think this is a natural result of “scientism” — the tendency of people to seek the authority of “science” for disciplines (mostly in the social sciences) that really aren’t that scientific. Obviously, in those disciplines, the problems of bias, power relations, subjectivity, “constructs,” and so forth that the postmodernists obsess over are a greater problem than they are in something like physics.

    The problem I have with much of postmodernism — or at least its popular interpretations and applications — is that it jumps from “the truth is hard to find” to “there is no absolute truth” to “we don’t have to care about absolute truth.” Which gives people all kinds of license to act as if there is no absolute truth, which gets us things like judges cheating outrageously in their application of the law, politicians articulating officially plausible but objectively absurd promises, religious apologists insisting that we prefer a completely silly long-shot speculation over mounds of compelling evidence, etc.

    If absolute truth is a fiction, it’s a useful enough fiction that I don’t think we can afford to be cynical about it. Truth is something we need to aim at, even if postmodernism provides useful reminders not to be too sure of ourselves.

  54. Mike S #49 – I think I hear some (possibly justifiable) exasperation in your comment about TBMs. First though, I think all TBMs differ just like everyone. There’s no “one size fits all” TBM – there are some who know quite a bit about things, and others who know next to nothing. For a mostly ignorant TBM, I think they have a greater vulnerability from exposure to weird stuff they didn’t know; they may have built some very false notions into their understanding of the church and the doctrines based on a lack of knowledge. For example, a TBM who is unaware of the simple fact that JS practiced polygamy may be prone to react differently to that fact than someone who grew up knowing that was the case. I know someone personally for whom that was a major issue (at least initially), and yet I was surprised that anyone didn’t know that. So people have different perspectives based on their experiences. In some ways I think the more isolated, black & white worldview TBMs are the most prone to having a problem with too little shelf space, whereas the more unorthodox, nuanced liberal Mormons have fairly big shelves with a lot of flexibility.

    And in the spirit of your question, I can think of several things that would probably cause the majority of TBMs to exit the church:
    1 – cannibalism or human sacrifice (would probably have to be confirmed very high ranking or widespread – otherwise it can be considered “fringe” like Danites)
    2 – reinstituting polygamy in our present day

  55. #53 Hawkgrrl — I don’t think anything in Church history would ever cause a true TBM to exit the Church. Their faith did not come to them through history, and they will not allow so-called history to destroy it. You could have a clear photograph of Brigham Young eating the Aiken Party’s livers with fava beans and a nice Chianti, attached to the sworn authenticating affidavits in authenticated handwriting of the Quorum of the Twelve and the Supreme Court. And the dead men’s exhumed bones could be discovered to have teeth marks that matched Brigham’s (likewise exhumed) teeth, which would be discovered to have fragments of the men’s DnA wedged between them (proving additionally, horror of horrors, that Brigham didn’t floss!) And Brigham’s personal correspondence could be discovered to contain recipe “To Serve Man”…and it could all be explained away, somehow or other. They would move heaven and earth, and fully believe it was the right thing to do.

  56. Mike S (and Thomas), consider the flip side of the question:

    What would it take for skeptics to embrace Mormonism and believe?

    I submit that the answer is the exact same for both groups – incontrovertible proof from their own perspective.

    The historicity of the Book of Mormon is a great example of this. Honestly, I think there is plenty of “evidence” for both sides of the debate, especially if the debate is limited strictly to what the book itself actually says and not what members/leaders and critics have assumed about it. (since a large percentage of the claims I’ve heard over the decades for and against are based on things I don’t think the book itself claims – again on both sides of the issue) They key, imo, really isn’t the nature of the evidence in and of itself. Rather, it’s the perspective of the person evaluating the evidence – and what type of evidence each person is willing to accept as legitimate.

    I’ve heard VERY compelling arguments both for and against legitimate historicity – truly sophisticated and intelligent arguments, but I’ve yet to come across evidence that is so objectively incontrovertible that either side can say legitimately that they have proven their case beyond a doubt for all people. Thus, currently we have people (members and non-members) who believe all kinds of things regarding this question – including multiple location theories among believers.

  57. Thomas – doubtless there are a few fanatical TBMs out there, but if you’re talking about 80% of believing members and that’s what you mean when you say TBMs, I think proof of cannibalism by a prophet would give them pause. If you’re talking about some extreme fanatical minority of TBMs, sure, (unless the Chianti throws them!).

  58. Ray – “Thus, currently we have people (members and non-members) who believe all kinds of things regarding this question – including multiple location theories among believers.” and multiple fabrication theories among disbelievers.

  59. All I have to say is WOW!! Who knew the phrase “putting things on the shelf” could bring up so much and go so many directions.

    I think I may have to “put it all on the shelf” and think about it.

  60. RE: #53

    “2 – reinstituting polygamy in our present day”

    I expect that if Pres Monson or whoever was president stood up and said the Lord said to bring it back that people would do it. The mark of a good member even a TBM is obedience. I don’t mean unthinking, blind obedience but being willing to stand up and do what you’re asked when it’s by someone you believe speaks with and for God. That’s why the brethren are so careful about what they ask us to do and why lower eschelon leadership should be a bit more circumspect in their demands on our time and talents.

  61. #58 — Not “doltishness” — there are plenty of true believers, of many different faiths, who are more intelligent than I am. Just a conscious decision to use a different standard of evidence. Clearly I’m exaggerating, but I’m recalling a discussion from FAIR where this very subject was the topic of a thread, and there was praise of true believers for their willingness to “move heaven and earth” if necessary to preserve belief.

    I’ve found mere earthmoving to be hard enough (especially when you’re dealing with caliche). When you’re willing to move heaven and earth, a little cannibalism among friends is easily explained away.

    Was President Monson wrong, then, to say that because a true believer’s faith did not come to him through science, “so-called science” (I don’t see any qualifier there!) can never destroy it — no matter how persuasive the “so-called science” might be?

    History, after all, is one of the least reliable sciences. Documents can be convincingly forged (see Hoffman, Mark), photographs can be faked, and forensic evidence can railroad. (Real life ain’t CSI.) Scott Peterson’s parents are sure their boy is innocent; at least half of South LA seems to think OJ was. (Another large percentage doesn’t care.) When you are free to shift your standard of evidence based on what you want to believe, nothing is impossible.

    I had a mission companion who absolutely refused to believe that Joseph Smith and his friends drank wine in Carthage Jail, despite it being right there in the History of the Church. There are answers to anything.

  62. Ray — To believe in the way others believe would certainly not take “incontrovertible proof.” I don’t have incontrovertible proof of the Resurrection (or against it), and yet I believe. But that event is safely tucked away in a dusty, poorly documented corner of the Levant two thousand years ago. Belief or nonbelief can’t be a function of evidence; there’s not enough for a verdict. So it’s a matter of choice — and based on what I believe faith in the Resurrection has done and continues to do for me, I choose to believe.

    I question whether the evidence for and against Book of Mormon authenticity really is as close to equipoise as it’s made out to be, but if it’s truly the case that the evidence for and against really cancels both sides out, then the determination to embrace belief in its literal antiquity would also be a choice, to be made based on any available spiritual promptings, an honest appraisal of that belief’s past and likely future fruits, and my desire to believe it.

    Ultimately, I do want to believe there is an Absolute Truth, that good will prevail, and that God rewards those who diligently seek him. I’m temperamentally more or less inclined towards the Church’s moral teaching, and don’t get all hot & bothered about Prop. 8 or the Church’s investments. Except for maybe a bit of Protestant-style antisacerdotal libertarian personal stubbornness, there’s really not much there that would make me not want Mormonism to be true. I know how fallible I am, and so if there is ever going to be anything like unity of the faith, direct revelation is the only way to get there. So I’m basically primed to want the Church to be true. What would it take to clear away the obstacles to unreserved, un-asterisk’ed faith not just that the Church is where I should be, but that I could stand up and say with the others that I know it’s all literally true? I don’t know what the answer is, except “more.” I hope I’d recognize “enough” when I saw it.

  63. #53 and GBSmith @ #64 — Not only that, I know personally a few people who seem kinda intrigued by the possibility.

  64. #56: BHodges

    I agree with your characterization of the TBM label, as it has too many implications. As I mentioned, I didn’t really have another term. I suppose my question was more philosophical in nature. For an active, believing, faithful member (not necessarily black-and-white Bob), it seems that all positives support the foregone conclusion that the Church is true, and all negatives are “shelved”. And this isn’t limited to just the LDS Church. It is common among other Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc.

    Looking at the examples given, I suppose it would have to be very extreme (ie. cannibalism) to even begin to bother people. But I suppose people in FAIR would attempt to explain that away as well. It goes both ways, however. For someone against the Church, they won’t even consider positive evidence.

    So, at the end of the day, I suppose it’s purely the grace of God. If someone has had some sort of “experience” so profound that they will literally accept anything from a leader’s mouth, then logic and proof and everything else don’t really matter. If someone hasn’t had that, it’s a different story. I do agree that in that case that someone may just “want” the Church to be true and may live their life in the hope that someday they will have an “experience”.

    I am a bit surprised by the people that listed polygamy. We have never really said polygamy was wrong and it’s still a doctrine of the Church. We just aren’t currently practicing it because of political pressures as described in OD#1. I do appreciate the answers to my curiosity.

  65. I define a TBM as someone who has received a witness by the Spirit. This witness or testimony is centered in the Book of Mormon and the account of the restoration of the gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith. This witness or testimony comes in three sizes:

    1. Hope–this witness comes by the Spirit and motivates the recipient to have hope in the above. It can evolve (or devolve).

    2. Belief–this witness also comes by the Spirit and is a more powerful motivator than hope. It can also evolve(or devolve).

    3. Knowledge–this witness comes by the Spirit and is the most powerful motivator of all.

    The recipients of the first two witnesses can tolerate various degrees of cognitive dissonance.

    The recipient of knowledge is given much, and therefore much is required(2 Nephi 31:14).

  66. OK, this question of “what would it take to get a TBM to not believe” reminds me of a book I read (not very good, BTW) called The Last Templar. The protagonists find a lost manuscript that is Jesus’ diary written in his own hand disproving his divinity. It’s similar to the Jesus tomb. So, even that didn’t shake faith in the book. Believers believed and doubters doubted.

  67. @72 hawkgrrl:

    For me, it took overwhelming evidence that church leaders and doctrine were hurting innocent people and were against the teachings of Jesus.

    After seeing that, I started trying to find ways that “The church is true but the people aren’t” still applied even here, but then I found overwhelming evidence that the church’s truth claims are false. It hurt.

  68. Ha! Hawkgrrl, I love the way you have to travel all the way to cannibalism by a prophet to de-convince true believing mormons, because clearly pedophellia isn’t going to do it.

  69. Tachyon, # 73,

    As a TBM myself, I have found overwhelming evidence to my own mind that the central claims of Joseph Smith are true. The rest is fluff in the sense that it is all the complex truths I was talking about previously. In my experience, one only concludes truth claims are false, when one does not have a testimony of core claims, and one looks too simplistically at complexity of each and every thing that seems to be “false”. Both of these problems can be overcome, but without digging and having patience, and letting the spirit answer prayers on its own timetable, and looking at it as a puzzle that needs to be solved rather than knee jerk dismissal because of things one doesn’t understand, one will never come to the correct understanding.

  70. Agnes 74 – of course, I did consider pedophilia, but given the Catholic church’s recent experiences, I’m not sure it’s sufficient; it’s just an indication of a fallen individual, unless it’s the top guy, right? Incest also might do it, but again it would have to be wide-spread or the top guy. Those who have claimed JS was a pedophile, however, are missing the mark. Victims of pedophilia are pre-pubescent, which was not the case in even the youngest of his wives. IIRC, there was a GA who was accused & convicted of actual pedophilia, but he was cut loose immediately.

  71. hawkgrrl — By that standard, the Catholic Church’s misfortunes didn’t involve “pedophilia” in many cases, either. Many of the wicked priests had a thing for adolescent boys. I think there’s a technical word for that, but can’t remember it.

  72. Thomas – the term is hebephile or ephebephile. Unlike pedophilia, it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

    From one site discussing adults attracted to teens: “an older person wants a sexual partner who will be impressed by them, perhaps even a little intimidated by them, and is in some sense seeking to find someone with little sexual/life experience or expectations about sex because that seems to take the pressure off for the adult. I think we can also observe older partners in age-disparate relationships often looking to try and recapture or relive their own youth, or to avoid some aspects of adulthood.”

    While not indicative of a mental disorder, it’s unsavory to contemplate a sexual relationship in which there is inequality, especially intentional inequality. However, that’s an inference that is not consistently supported (there are ambiguous and differing accounts).

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