Reflections on a Thought Experiment

Stephen MarshMormon 5 Comments

I saw a recent thought experiment.  The author asked:  what if you had to chose between a doctrine you disliked and results you liked (lets call them doctrine A and result B) or doctrine you liked and results you disliked (doctrine B and result A).  Which would you chose?

Some said that result B obviously meant that the doctrine could not be doctrine A.  Others said that they would chose doctrine B because they could keep the doctrine and also escape outcome A.  Of course everyone’s framing and narrative interjected a great deal into the discussion.

But it made me think about how we should approach a situation where we are unhappy with what we perceive a doctrine to be (and where we feel that the doctrine is part of the result).  This is especially true from an LDS perspective where there is a teaching that we have errant scriptures, leaders, teachings and understandings.

What are the alternatives?

  1. We turn things into mush.  One just assumes it is all a bit wrong, so everything is open and you just draw any conclusion you like on any point.  That makes doctrines both irrelevant and meaningless.
  2. We can just decide that we know better.  As one person told me “it is obvious that I am right and you are wrong.”  Of course it isn’t as obvious as we might think, regardless of how we might conclude that everyone else is blinded by having the wrong narrative.
  3. Third, we can just accept.  I’ve met people who accepted just about every defective doctrine you can name (or at least amazing collections of folk beliefs, rumors, cultural memes and suppositions).  That is thin gruel.
  4. We can view the expression (e.g. the scripture or the ritual) through the lense of teachings.  Some times that leads to places we are happy with (e.g. the myriad of teachings by prophets that women are equal to men and that marriages should be equal partnerships), other times it can be unsettling (consider the discussions on race in the Church and the many narratives that spun from that).
  5. We can approach God on the topic in patience and faith, looking for counterforces.  Much like a ship sailing against cross currents (which heads one direction in order to get another direction), some times God sends us in direction A to get to destination B.

None of the alternatives are necessarily right in every situation.  All of them are sub-sets of the issue we have when we have difficulty understanding God (as they result from what we feel must be confusion in following those who are imperfectly following their imperfect understandings of what has been revealed to them).

All of these approaches also side-step the duty to act in love and kindness, remembering Christ and having his name upon us first.  That is a completely different frame.

After all, Christ did not change everything about the church of his day, even though parts of it were clearly unacceptable (buying the office of president of the Church from external civil authorities anyone?).  Even practices that were changed as a part of the primative Church seem to have taken a while (gospel to go to “all the earth” yet how long did it take before they decided gentiles could be baptized?).

Some tentative conclusions:

If what the Church is doing at any one time is tacking or fighting a cross current rather than heading in the direction it is pointed, complaining about the direction won’t get you very far.

If what you are resisting is a folk doctrine, don’t expect much if you attribute it to the Church rather than to folly.

If what you are doing is setting up your prophetic vision as superior, don’t think you have a new story.

And, sadly, if you propose a thought experiment, expect people to reach conclusions by trying to ignore the rules 😉

Yes, things we think are wrong can be wrong. Sometimes they are just wrong. Some times they are wrong in a way that when added to a counter force they reach the right result. Sometimes they are wrong because we aren’t ready for the right answer or can’t understand the right answer. Some times they are wrong because we can’t take being pruned any faster (consider the parable of the olive tree). Finally, I suspect some things are wrong because they are part of the dung that olive trees get fertilized with.

Comments 5

  1. If those are the choices, I’ll take the first option (iffy doctrine, good result) every time. I think the proof is in the pudding, so if I have to risk being wrong about a doctrine or a result, I’ll risk being wrong about the doctrine.

  2. “If what the Church is doing at any one time is tacking or fighting a cross current rather than heading in the direction it is pointed, complaining about the direction won’t get you very far.”

    I really like this analogy, it puts into words an idea I have trying to articulate to myself about understanding some of the things that GAs have said that seem a little overboard but have a lot of truth in them still. Thank you

  3. Post

    You are welcome Kevin. I personally envision the Church as more like a collection of barges being sailed somewhere. There are not only the cross-currents to consider, but the spill-over from excesses (which go both ways) and what spillover is worse or better than the alternatives.

    Ray, I agree with your conclusions.

  4. Ray, I would tend to agree with you that results over teachings would be preferred.

    However, many doctrines are eternal in nature and results aren’t always known in this world. I think there are many doctrines that are sound and therefore make it a matter of faith to wait and see the rewards in the next life.

    That is the nature of most religion, willing to sacrafice results on faith the doctrine will prove to be more worthy in the eternities.

    We won’t always see the results, but have faith in the doctrine.

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