The Mormon Therapist on the Color Gray

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Natasha Helfer Parker is a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the Church with 13 years of experience working with LDS members. Here she shares with us representative cases from her practice and insights she has gained from her work as a therapist.  She blogs at mormontherapist.blogspot.com.

I think so many people want a clear “black and white” answer on many issues. Instead our leaders and the Lord give us great freedom (leeway so to speak) to live our religion.
A lot of people seem to be on a quest to “decide” what our Heavenly Father must feel and what His stance must be on certain things like oral sex, plastic surgery, and even consuming caffeine, for example….
So many people are adamant that they KNOW what’s right and what’s wrong, and that all other opinions are false.
Someone may assume, for instance, that because I am not speaking out against these things that therefore, I must do them myself. What’s important to me is that I don’t join the ranks of people assuming that my answer is the right answer – and then move towards casting judgments.
Agency can be such a tricky thing, can’t it?

Well I couldn’t agree with you more. There are so many reasons I love the gospel of Jesus Christ. Three of its main principles that resonate with me are 1. the gift and importance of free agency, 2. knowing we have the possibility to receive personal revelation applicable to our unique situation, and 3. the guidance to be non-judgmental and merciful when dealing with ourselves and others.

  • It is through our free agency that we learn EVERYTHING. If we choose to follow the gospel, then we choose. If we don’t, we still choose. Either way the consequences (whether positive or negative) have to do with learning and progression. It is based on the principle of opposition. For every good there is bad. For every painful experience there is the possibility for joy. If we can truly accept this principle, it is easier to have perspective when we fall, or what can seem sometimes worse, when our loved ones fall.
  • It is through personal revelation that one of our prophets, Nephi, came to know he had to kill in order to recover the history of his people. This went against the most basic of commandments.  I am in no way inferring that we should feel justified in murder through the guise of personal revelation, and yet there is a lesson to be learned. Sometimes, for the sake of something better and bigger and through personal revelation, we leave the “rule” behind (i.e. we stay in a struggling marriage for the sake of an eternal family, we divorce our spouse because of personal safety, we embrace the member we know has recently been excommunicated, we love and support our gay son who has left the church, we think before speaking in church and take into account different situations, we cease to judge others whom we know little about, we decide that engaging in oral sex is OK, we decide engaging in oral sex is not OK, etc.). It is of utmost importance for all of us to be continually building on this heavenly means of communication with our Father for it has no limit.
  • Once we understand that all of us are on different progression paths, we can better accept the concepts of mercy and forgiveness which lead to the possibility of being less judgmental. The “I can’t believe he did that!” “Did you hear what she just said?” “I could never do something like that!” comments go by the wayside to make way for a more productive process of communication that embodies the true love of Christ: charity. And charity never faileth. It never fails us and it never fails others. Christ Himself loved, served, and healed the most vile of sinners of His time. Is this not the utmost of metaphors for us all? We all sin. It is impossible in this life not to. If we did not sin, what would be the point of even being here?

In my dealings with many members of the church and in looking at my own life experiences, I have come to the conclusion that very little of what we are faced with falls into the “Black or White” category. From the very beginning we know that Eve and Adam face a contradiction: two opposing commandments. We can ask what kind of God would put us in this predicament? I counter with this answer: A God who wanted us to learn mercy. A God who needs us to understand compassion. A God who wants us to think for ourselves, use our resources, and stretch our boundaries or comfort zones. In fact many of our beloved scriptural stories are in some way or another about people who had to find an exception to the rule – a different way than what their cultural or religious traditions proscribed. Jesus Christ Himself was the epitome of breaking the Mosaic and Judaic rules in order to achieve cadence to a higher law – a higher purpose. I am in no way encouraging everyone to go break rules for the heck of it. Commandments and guidance are in place to help us achieve happiness and attain blessings. I just hope that through this gospel principle of looking at the “gray” which surrounds us, we can look at situations on an individual basis (not everything or everyone fits into the same mold) and on a merciful basis (no matter what anyone is doing or not doing, they deserve our love and respect as fellow children of God – including ourselves).

MM readers- How do you see the world?  Black and White?  Or with varying degrees of gray?

Comments

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Comments 101

  1. One of the big take-home messages from earning a degree in psychology is that nothing is black and white, everything is on a continuum: Neurotransmitters in the brain, emotion, the difference between normal and abnormal, etc. And yet somehow, I never applied it very much to the gospel. Thank you for this post, it really makes a lot of sense. I like to think I’m fairly open-minded and non-judgmental but hopefully this will help me to be more-so.

  2. Since we learned one of our five sons is gay and have learned so much about homosexuality, I have come to believe that the world is gray with varying shades of black and white.

  3. Natasha
    The study of human behavior is definitely what drew me to want to study psych in the first place. And then every now and again I hear members of the church that think psychology is a pseudo-science (like ESP, etc) and a bunch of hooey and I think “are you serious?”

  4. D.H. it is a matter of the way some people practice it. Consider recovered memories and the psychs that testified that a 5″ wide butcher’s blade could get stuck in a child, yet leave no mark behind … the prosecutor in that case recently ran for senate, the man convicted still the victim of modern psych. Just saying.

  5. The LDS world I inhabit is very much a grey world, but many of the other inhabitants “know” its black and white. I’ve recently had a problem with a gospel doctrine techer who is also the bishop’s wife. Early in the year there were lessons where there were as much mention of Joy as obedience, but no mention of joy in the lesson so I pointed this out in class. I was told that the teacher was teaching what the Lord and the Prophet wanted taught and if I didn’t support that it would be better for me to keep quiet. My temple recommend interview took over an hour with the Bishop explaing that his wife believed I was attacking her during class, and asking what I was going to do about it.

    Since prop8, and living in a disfunctional ward (which has been this way for 3 years now)we are now questioning whether and if revelation/inspiration is involved in many of the decisions of our leaders, before we take them seriusly. Previously we were more accepting.

    I have learned that black and white is the acceptable version and that from that perspective grey is seen as somewhere between questioning and apostacy. Yet still to me many things look grey.

  6. GofA:

    I recently saw your comments about this on another post somewhere. I’m sorry you have to deal with that. It must be maddening. The next time the teacher says “I’m just teaching what God and the prophet wants taught” you should either: a) point out something she has said that is clearly her own interpretation/opinion, or b) ask “So you have a direct line of communication with the prophet?” Although I suppose neither one of those responses would be appropriate or inviting of the Spirit…but they sure would be entertaining. 🙂

  7. D.H. what he should do is merely ask for additional reading material. — “That’s interesting, could you point me to some more sources so I can read more about it?” Eventually he will mature enough to be a high priest and will learn the skill of sleeping through meetings. Until then the normal thing to do is to write in your journal or draft blog entries. Or, you can always go “That is an insightful way to go from ‘xxx'” and quote something from Mormon Doctrine or the lesson manual. “I’d never thought of it that way.” For next year, when the BYU expanded commentaries on the New Testament come out, he will be able to start taking those to class with him and quoting those instead.

    Then, next Temple Recommend interview, or before, he can tell the Bishop that he has decided that he is going to make a real effort to support his wife in teaching the gospel in your comments and class participation.

    However, just about every Gospel Doctrine teacher has themes or riffs they will stray into. My general advice is to just ignore the quirks, they go away faster that way. When teaching, I’ve found that just sticking to the material makes classes think you are the best they’ve every had as a gospel doctrine instructor.

  8. Natasha,

    Thanks for this post. I have moved from black and white to gray as I have matured — and I don’t mean just my hair color, thouht that, too… 🙂

    It is easy to see black and white theoretically, but when faced with the reality of life, things become much more gray. Someone in a 12-step group I participated in related the story that a young mom told her, “Well, I just wouldn’t ALLOW my children to use drugs!” My friend responded, “Neither did I, and yet they did.”

    I have been intrigued with the double-edged swords of gospel living, like the one you pointed out for Adam and Eve. Our life is (not to reduce it to a question of microeconomics) little more than the series of choices we make, each leadings from some alternatives and to others.

    It’s telling to me that although it was an iron rod that led Lehi in his dream, it was a Liahona that led him across the desert.

  9. #4

    Personally I find God more reliable and He tends to answer much more quickly.

    Overall I want to argue that the celestial principles of the gospel as introduced by the Savior are far more of a grey area than something like the Law of Moses: where people ended up having to be told EVERYTHING, and that’s the direction that people like to take because they’re afraid of exercising their agency or self-conscience. Take a look at the Word of Wisdom: it councils against hot drinks in Section 89, yet we’re always told over the pulpit that coffee and tea can be found between the lines in that section.

    Someone didn’t like the grey area of “hot drinks” which the Lord himself spoke (which means what it says) so that person decided to include drinks that are traditionally served hot as being against the Word of Wisdom. Some blends of coffee will release a harmful acid if it gets too hot and hot drinks in general can damage the throat, but several blends of both coffee and tea, when brewed properly, can have wonderful benefits for the mind and body.

    Looking back at the big picture, we’re counseled on what principles to live by and to keep the commandments, but also tend to want to drift towards being micromanaged in every single little thing, thinking we have to do every single thing flawlessly in order to qualify for the celestial kingdom.

  10. #5 D.H.

    I’m one of the co-chairs in my single’s ward Family Home Evening group, and one of the other co-chairs is a psychology student. She applies her studies on how to approach getting people to actively participate in our activities. What I’ve learned from it, sadly, is that people even in that kind of setting have to be told what to do. I’m with the attitude of, “This is tonight’s activity and you’re welcome to participate if you wish” but that doesn’t satisfy our number reports so we have to go with, “This is tonight’s activity, so come sit down over here and we’ll get started.”

  11. #11 Dave P.

    the celestial principles of the gospel as introduced by the Savior are far more of a grey area than something like the Law of Moses: where people ended up having to be told EVERYTHING,

    This doesn’t match my understanding of the law of Moses. The law of Moses attempted to set out a basic framework on how life was to be lived, but did not attempt to address every eventuality. Rather, the people were to apply the law to their own situations and figure it out for themselves. I realize there is a popular idea of the law of Moses controlling every minute aspect of a person’s actions, but this simply is not so (nor, on reflection, is such a thing even possible).

    and that’s the direction that people like to take because they’re afraid of exercising their agency or self-conscience

    Agency is a gift from God. It cannot be taken away by any means, though it can perhaps be abandoned. But I know of no one who tries to follow the gospel in any degree at all who is “afraid of exercising their agency”. The only people I know who might remotely qualify are those who are so deeply engaged in sinful behavior and lifestyle that they care only about satiating their desires.

  12. #9 Stephen Marsh:

    “Eventually he will mature enough to be a high priest and will learn the skill of sleeping through meetings. Until then the normal thing to do is to write in your journal or draft blog entries.”

    lol!

  13. One of the confusions that occasionally manifests in Mormon culture, is that people conclude that since certain Gospel principles are to be preached and held with certainty, therefore certainty is preferable to uncertainty, and therefore certainty ought to be declared with respect to as many things as possible. And this often leads people to declare things with certainty, that they have no business doing. They invoke the sanction of God on points as to which the Lord has simply not given the Church sufficient detail for a firm position to be taken based on purportedly revealed knowledge.

    I believe this is a form of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Wovon Gott nicht gesprochen hat, davon muss man schweigen, unless he makes it clear he’s speaking from his own best understanding and not by special revelation.

  14. #15 Thomas:

    One of the confusions that occasionally manifests in Mormon culture, is that people conclude that since certain Gospel principles are to be preached and held with certainty, therefore certainty is preferable to uncertainty, and therefore certainty ought to be declared with respect to as many things as possible.

    Adding to the confusion is that this is a true principle — that is, certainty is indeed preferable to uncertainty, and “certainty ought to be declared with respect to as many things as possible.” The key is the “as possible” part. If we really have received some piece of knowledge from God, we ought — indeed, we are duty-bound — to declare it as revealed fact. Period. We ought never to minimize, disclaim, or apologize for our doctrines.

    But what happens when we really, truly, deeply believe that something is revealed fact, but it is not? Ideally, we never end up in this position. In fact, our mortal prejudices and short-sightedness make it all but certain that this will happen to us over and over. I see no obvious solution except to be humble, remain close to the Spirit, study and analyze carefully, and always stand ready to follow the example of Elder McConkie (among others) in saying, in effect, “Ignore anything I or anyone else ever said on this matter. We spoke from a position of ignorance. The truth on the matter has been revealed, and I am getting in line.”

  15. The problem with the Elder McConkie quote, is that it was made after the damage had been done.

    “In fact, our mortal prejudices and short-sightedness make it all but certain that this will happen to us over and over.”

    “This” is not just getting things wrong. “This” is “getting things wrong, in the express name of the Lord” — as in, “This has been revealed to me, and your disagreement with me clearly reveals you’re on the Enemy’s side.” Even if that’s not said aloud, this is absolutely how people can think. Its natural tendency is to create enmity.

    My experience is that very few things are confirmed spiritually, and even fewer of those things are things that are susceptible of being answered by diligent study. However, the LDS culture of personal inspiration does often lead people to support their ideas by appeals to revelation when they have no business doing so. A classic example is Glenn Beck telling people to “pray about it” — in a pitch to sell gold. (See http://mormonmatters.org/2009/12/17/glenn-beck-gold-and-moronis-promise/. Gah.) Or people who tearfully testify that the Fall River skeleton (the one Longfellow thought was a Viking burial) is evidence of the Book of Mormon. Or young who declare to sweet young geologists that it has been revealed that he’s supposed to marry her.

    All this reminds me too much of too many of the Democrats I’ve known, who really do seem to think that you can’t disagree with them without being just plain evil. (Seriously — I start trying to feel out just how much somebody understands about the negative-feedback issue in climate science, and the next thing I know, I’m basically a Holocaust denier.)

  16. Thomas, surely you typed the wrong party when you said “all this reminds me of the Democrats I’ve known….”. What you continue to say actually sounds like the Republicans I know.

  17. In Church, the world is presented as Black and White – Carnal or Celestial. You’re with us or against us. We all nod our heads, keep our contrary opinions to ourselves, and teach our kids the same.

    Then we go home to our gray lives, our gray choices, and hope the Bishop never finds out.

  18. DH 14, Been one for 35 years. My wife nudges me when I drop off.

    One of the things that really irks me is that the Church requires everything sanitized. Why can’t we have more than one point of view in the Ensign, put a ballanced view with both sides of an argument.

    I have just received an email from Mormon.org (I registered then decided it would be unwise to truthfully answer the questions). Why would I be concerned to tell the truth about my feelings toward church doctrines/policies? Perhaps because I have previously written to GAs with concerns only to be called in by the Stake Pres a few months later. No where else in my life am I unable to say what I think, not this much anyway.

    Did we get told some years age to stop writing to the leaders of the church, and yet every conference we get stories abot people who write nice things to them?

  19. #21 G of A:Why would I be concerned to tell the truth about my feelings toward church doctrines/policies? Perhaps because I have previously written to GAs with concerns only to be called in by the Stake Pres a few months later.

    Questions in the Church are almost always answered through the existing organizational structure. What did you find objectionable about this? What were you expecting instead?

    No where else in my life am I unable to say what I think, not this much anyway.

    In what way does the Church make you “unable to say what [you] think”?

    Did we get told some years age to stop writing to the leaders of the church, and yet every conference we get stories abot people who write nice things to them?

    I have wondered why we are given the instruction not to write the apostles or Church president but instead take our concerns to our local leaders, yet those same General Authorities quote from letters they receive, in apparent contradiction to the previous instruction.

  20. #19 — I guess it all depends on whose Gore is getting oxed.

    #22 — “I have wondered why we are given the instruction not to write the apostles or Church president but instead take our concerns to our local leaders, yet those same General Authorities quote from letters they receive, in apparent contradiction to the previous instruction.”

    All rules, except about four of them, have exceptions.

  21. I’m ok with the Ensign being sanitized. It’s the “house organ” of the church, and we’d assume that it will stay on the straight and narrow.

    GofA you’ve articulated quite clearly earlier in this string and elsewhere about the unfortunate circumstance of your situation in your ward. And I am sorry about that. I know our local stake leaders have from time to time reminded us that questions are to be handled locally. That said, I assume some letters do get through. (Sometimes stake presidents may forward concerns, I suppose.)

    #16 Vort, I’m trying to sort out this comment, which I overlooked earlier. It’s true: revealed truth is revealed truth. But what I learn in personal revelation is not necessarily for general church consumption as I’m not in a position of general responsibility. When you use the word “we” in your comment, I can’t tell if you mean “we the church” or “we as individual members in the church.” Certainly Elder McConkie could preach what he wanted in his role as an apostle. And some of it was spectacular, and some (as often discussed here and in other blogs) missed the mark. But as an individual member, I don’t have that same freedom.

  22. #25 Paul: I was speaking of our deep, sincere beliefs that we are absolutely sure form a part of revealed doctrine, but which in fact are not revealed doctrine. In previous generations, for example, many of the Saints knew as unassailable facts some teachings about the spiritual and temporal conditions of African blacks — things which proved false. It was to such things, and to the mortal inevitability of believing some such things, that I was referring.

  23. #26, this brings to mind the old saying, “It’s not the things I didn’t know that done me in — it’s the things I knew, that weren’t so.”

    One of the most enthusiastically certain people I ever knew, was a mission companion who was often wrong, but never in doubt. There are aspects of Mormon (and real estate brokering) culture which favor this kind of damn-the-torpedoes certainty. In some environments, the temperament that inclines people to say “hey, wait a minute” is definitely a handicap. But as we observed in the second half of the decade, if people with that magic capacity of never doubting aren’t checked, they can go sailing serenely confident right off a cliff.

    LDS exaltation of certainty and disfavoring of doubt certainly fortifies the true principles that need to be able to stand up against a skeptical world that doesn’t recognize faith as a valid foundation for belief. Unfortunately, it also fortifies error. Might it be possible to preserve conviction in the essentials, without letting (false) conviction leak over into spheres where it has no business being proclaimed?

    The problem with false conviction isn’t just that it occasionally leads us to be overcertain of things we shouldn’t be. Everybody does that. The problem is when false conviction gets too closely bound up with true conviction, such that when the falsity of the false conviction is revealed, the true conviction gets torn down, too. This absolutely happens in LDS culture. When a person’s faith is destroyed by a process in which his discovery that what he once thought was absolute revealed truth was error, we tend to blame him alone, without recognizing the fault of those who helped foster the false certainty in the first place.

    Ultimately, we are responsible for our own faith — and yet it’s absurd to suggest that each of us believes as we do in a vacuum, unaffected by themes and cultures built by others. To the extent that we are those “others,” building the foundations for our children’s faith, I’d like to take care to lessen the extent to which people are encouraged to entertain propositions with less certainty than the evidence (including the evidence of faith) warrants.

  24. #26 Vort, there were, as history has demonstrated, plenty of people who did NOT know those “unassailable facts” were true. There were plenty of people who quietly kept their mouths shut because they could not reconcile the teaching with the truth that was not there. And there were a few brave ones who spoke out. One wonders if there are such things now. (And some will say that inevitably there are.)

    I take exception with you that certainty should be declared about as many things as possible. Indeed there are many things that are not certain, and I think a focus on basic gospel principles is an effort to return us to the relatively few things that can be so declared.

    Don’t get me wrong. The prophets can and should teach whatever God commands them to teach, in whatever detail He commands, and we would do well to heed them. But before declaring false absolutes, let us be certain. And let us allow our brothers and sisters who are not so certain also to have a place at the table where they, too, may be nourished by the good word of God.

  25. #28 Paul

    there were, as history has demonstrated, plenty of people who did NOT know those “unassailable facts” were true.

    Yes, but I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the ones that were convinced of their testimony, believing it to be established, revelatory truth.

    There were plenty of people who quietly kept their mouths shut because they could not reconcile the teaching with the truth that was not there.

    Good for them. That’s exactly what they should have done.

    And there were a few brave ones who spoke out.

    Not brave, but foolish. Such found themselves outside of the Church by their own hand. Tragic, sad, perhaps even understandable, but not brave.

    One wonders if there are such things now. (And some will say that inevitably there are.)

    Count me as one of those.

    I take exception with you that certainty should be declared about as many things as possible.

    Why shouldn’t we declare with certainty when we can?

    Indeed there are many things that are not certain,

    Then by definition, those are not the things we can proclaim with certainty.

    and I think a focus on basic gospel principles is an effort to return us to the relatively few things that can be so declared.

    I do not disagree with this.

    Don’t get me wrong. The prophets can and should teach whatever God commands them to teach, in whatever detail He commands, and we would do well to heed them. But before declaring false absolutes, let us be certain. And let us allow our brothers and sisters who are not so certain also to have a place at the table where they, too, may be nourished by the good word of God.

    Again, I don’t disagree. My point was that we sometimes are very confident that we are speaking known, revealed, established truth, only to find out there is much more to the story than we understood. So then, are we to assume that everything we know is wrong and never state anything with confidence? No, I don’t believe this. Rather, we continue to teach and testify as we understand and as the Spirit moves us, with the realization that things may not be as we think they are.

  26. @7

    I feel your pain,

    My ward is seriously dysfunctional as well, especially given the fact that the original BP is still in the ward and refuses to give up keys that he no longer holds. This is how dysfunctional and territorial my branch is, he is a classically trained pianist. I give him credit for that very talented, but if anyone else tries to play the piano in the branch, he kicks them off, he will kick them off he thinks they are not playing up to his standard and the current BP allows this and does nothing. The truth of the matter is we have plenty of capable people in our branch but no one gets to see it because of the territory issues

  27. I love MM because of posts like this, and also because Thomas wrote in German and just expected everyone to understand! You all must be my people.

  28. From what I’ve found, I think the gray can be more dangerous than the black, and we should see the gray and black on all levels. “[Satan] leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.” (2 Nephi 26:22) The devil rarely attacks us directly with the worst kinds of sins. (IE.: “You should go cheat on your wife right now.”) Usually, it’s something we consider small and meaningless. (IE.: “It doesn’t matter if you go out to lunch with that woman. Your wife won’t care.”) But, one thing leads to another, and the devil’s “flaxen cord” slowly yet surely thickens and thickens until it becomes so strong that we can’t break it without help from On High. Our psychology friend from comment #1 might recognize this as the “foot-in-the-door principle”. Now, sure, it’s not really possible to live life without ever going into the gray… we’re not perfect. But we should still be very cautious of where the gray starts. Sometimes it’s hard. Often, we can become desensitized. In seminary, our teacher provided an object lesson: He created a PowerPoint slideshow with many blank slides. The first was 0% gray (100% white). The second was 1% gray, the third 2%, the fourth 3%… you get the idea. He told us to tell him once we could see a slide that wasn’t white. He scrolled through each slide slowly, allowing about 3 seconds for each slide. He went through about 40 slides and no one could tell a difference until he compared the first and last slides. It was then obvious to us that 0% and 40% gray are VERY different. But because of such a gradual change, and since we weren’t consciously expecting the color to darken, we couldn’t tell that any change was taking place. We should be careful that this kind of desensitization doesn’t happen to us. Our best bet is to stay on the beach of whiteness and not wade in the gray waters, lest we mindlessly wander away from the shore and be swept away as the tide strengthens.

  29. #33, your discussion is fascinating to me. Similar to the frog in cold/boiling water.

    I think that you are describing grayness in terms of morally right and wrong: obedience.

    I have been speaking (er, writing) about grayer areas of doctrine rather than behavior.

    But I can see the gray works its way in many circumstances. And in many circumstances, the teaching of the brethren is not clear (in terms of behavior or doctrine). What to do then? Seems like we’re left to be agents unto ourselves, to study the gospel, petition the Lord and behave accordingly.

    Clearly there are some very clear directions:

    Men should not view pornography. That counsel has been consistent for some time.

    Parents should be equal partners in parenting. That counsel is codified and all but canonized.

    We should honor the Sabbath. That’s one of the Top Ten. But the “how” of honoring? Plenty of discussion there. One man’s meditative walk in nature is another man’s outdoor sport and recreation.

    The temple-worthy word of wisdom items are clear. The rest is a little gray. Not from a temple worthiness standpoint, but certainly from a behavior standpoint.

    Elder Oaks made clear the pressure we face in our world in his talk “Good, Better, Best,” in which he outlined (like you) that quite often our choices are not between good and evil, but between good and good (or rather good and better and best…). Discerning what is “best” in a given situation is a matter of personal exploration, and could well differ from one person to the next.

    #29 Vort – not sure what your comment is trying to do. I feel a little sliced and diced. Although I think you inferred it from my comment, I do not advocate standing up against the brethren. But I do acknowledge the history that some who have done so may have had a positive influence on doctrinal development. Others may not have, for all sorts of reasons. On my own blog earlier this week I commented that in times of doubt, I trust those whom I sustain to lead me well. You, of course, are free to declare whatever certainty you like.

  30. #34 Paul: My comment was intended to point out that just because we turn out to be wrong about something doesn’t mean we forever take a tentative attitude toward our own doctrines. Our understanding is fallible, our mental models are flawed, and we don’t understand our own sources well enough; yet we are still required to stand as witnesses at ALL times, in ALL places.

    If we fervently testify of something that is later proven wrong, well, that sucks. I really hate it. But our duty is not to be 100% correct or make ourselves look brilliant to others. Our duty is to testify of what we’ve been given to the best of our ability. To do less is cowardice, the moral equivalent of those who hold to some social position because they don’t want “to be on the wrong side of history”. I can respect and even honor a man who holds wrong opinions and who acts on them in all honesty, but I have little respect for a man who chooses his actions based on what he suspects others may think of him, now or in the future.

  31. Vort’s reasoning is why I have little regard for testimonies that ooze of certainty. Zealotry at its worst.

    “I know this is true”. Oh, that wasn’t true. “Well, I know this is true.”

  32. #29: “Not brave, but foolish. Such found themselves outside of the Church by their own hand. Tragic, sad, perhaps even understandable, but not brave.”

    It often doesn’t pay to be prematurely right, especially when the people who are wrong are bigger than you.

    It’s common in the Church to minimize just how much damage was done by Church leaders’ errors in speculating about the reasons for its prior policy of restricting access to the Priesthood and the Temple. My dear late grandmother — a truly elegant lady, without a mean bone in her body — startled me once over dinner by casually remarking how although she “hated the blacks,” something or other (I can’t recall what) was unfair. My best friend growing up was crushed when he found out that his girlfriend’s father had discouraged her from pursuing their relationship because of his mixed ethnic heritage, quoting remarks from Church authorities in his argument.

    Although I suppose that policy didn’t lead the Church “astray,” in the sense defined by Elder Oaks (“to the permanent injury of the work”), it really did do grave, avoidable injury to many souls and hearts. The Church was squarely on the wrong side of probably the greatest collective sin in the history of this country — not because it was unusually “racist,” but because it was unusually deferential to authority, even when that authority was being exercised ultra vires. The bottom line is always “We ought to obey God rather than men.” With respect to race, the Church, collectively, obeyed men, and left the world a worse place for it.

    “Why shouldn’t we declare with certainty when we can?”

    Erring on the side of humility might not be a bad idea, especially in light of the acknowledgment that sometimes the things we “can” declare with certainty, aren’t certain at all.

  33. Vort, I think our duty is to testify of Christ, of the restoration, and of faith, repentance and baptism (see D&C 6:9, 11:9, 14:8, 15:6, 16:6, 17:1-6, 18:1-4….).

  34. #39 Paul: Agreed. Furthermore, I believe these things should be testified with boldness and confidence, assuming we feel confident in them. Pussyfooting around such issues does no one any good.

  35. It seems to me that I heard one the general authorities say recently that if you didn’t have a testimony you should testify anyway since that would help a person to strengthen or gain one. Interestingly I was reading last night and an orthodox priest gave the same advice to his students about the creeds and questions they had. I’m neither comfortable testifying that something is true if I’m unsure or that it’s not true if I’m unsure. What would you advise, say something, say nothing?

  36. #42 GBSmith: Saying that you think you heard thus-and-such doesn’t really establish anything. I have heard such things as “a testimony grows in the bearing”, but I have never heard anyone in authority suggest that you should witness to something you in fact have no witness for.

    Think of it in legal terms. If you bear testimony in court, you testify of things you know, either because you’re an eyewitness or because you have gained the knowledge in other ways. A religious testimony is an expression of a revelation (or revelations) you have received. That’s what you should witness.

  37. Vort: See Elder Packer’s address “The Candle of the Lord”, at http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=b4bbc5e8b4b6b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD.

    It is not unusual to have a missionary say, “How can I bear testimony until I get one? How can I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the gospel is true? If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?”

    Oh, if I could teach you this one principle. A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two. “The spirit of man,” is as the scripture says, indeed “is the candle of the Lord.” (Prov. 20:27.)

    It is one thing to receive a witness from what you have read or what another has said; and that is a necessary beginning. It is quite another to have the Spirit confirm to you in your bosom that what you have testified is true. Can you not see that it will be supplied as you share it? As you give that which you have, there is a replacement, with increase!

    The prophet Ether “did prophecy great and marvelous things unto the people, which they did not believe, because they saw them not.

    “And now, I, Moroni, … would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” (Ether 12:5–6.)

    To speak out is the test of your faith.

    I agree that if you analogize this to the American legal system, you’re open to an objection for lack of foundation.

  38. #44 Thomas, quoting Elder Packer: “As you give that which you have, there is a replacement, with increase!”

    Note that Elder Packer is not telling you to perjure yourself. He’s telling you to testify of what you’ve been given, and you will be given more.

  39. Actually I knew it was President Packer but since I couldn’t site the specific talk, I didn’t reference him. I think “perjure” has to do with swearing to something you know is not true but I’ll defer to you and Thomas on that.

  40. True, but that’s not exactly an answer to the “not unusual” missionary’s question. The question was, how do you bear testimony of something when you don’t have any witness of it at all. Move to strike as nonresponsive.

    In fact, Elder Packer is counseling Church members to “testify” of things — which in LDS culture generally means saying “I know” — when the truth is that they do not yet know, but only hope in faith:

    Bear testimony of the things that you hope are true, as an act of faith. It is something of an experiment, like the experiment that the prophet Alma proposed to his followers. We begin with faith—not with a perfect knowledge of things. That sermon in the 32nd chapter of Alma is one of the greatest messages in holy writ, for it is addressed to the beginner, to the humble seeker. And it holds a key to a witness of the truth.

    “I know” means something simply, indisputably different from “I hope.” If a person says he knows something, when in fact he only hopes it is true at the moment he says it, he is simply not telling the truth.

    Now, it’s possible to declare your faith without misleading. If what I actually have is a faithful hope, then I could honestly say “I hope” or “I trust” or “I believe” or “I have faith” or “I have confidence.” I suppose I could even state it without any qualifier at all: “Jesus is the Christ.” It’s up to the hearer to ask for me to lay the foundation for that statement; if he does, then I tell him honestly that I believe this by the assent of faith.

    My experience has indeed been that when I declare things that I have chosen to take “leaps of faith” to believe, my conviction of them often grows. But that has never happened with respect to sectarian tenets. (Compare D&C 19:31.) On my mission, I did try Elder Packer’s method with respect to certain LDS sectarian tenets, and said I knew things I knew I did not. It felt horrible.

  41. #47 Thomas:

    In fact, Elder Packer is counseling Church members to “testify” of things — which in LDS culture generally means saying “I know” — when the truth is that they do not yet know, but only hope in faith: “Bear testimony of the things that you hope are true, as an act of faith…”

    You haven’t established the bolded part above, which I don’t believe. I have heard many of my fellow Saints testify of things that they believe or that they feel they are gaining through an ongoing process of revelation, rather than saying “I know”. Overlaying your own prejudices on Elder Packer’s words does violence to his meaning. He didn’t say to lie, he said to testify.

    Now, it’s possible to declare your faith without misleading. If what I actually have is a faithful hope, then I could honestly say “I hope” or “I trust” or “I believe” or “I have faith” or “I have confidence.” I suppose I could even state it without any qualifier at all: “Jesus is the Christ.” It’s up to the hearer to ask for me to lay the foundation for that statement; if he does, then I tell him honestly that I believe this by the assent of faith.

    I agree. And I also think this does away with any idea of being told to lie as a testimony-building act.

    On my mission, I did try Elder Packer’s method with respect to certain LDS sectarian tenets, and said I knew things I knew I did not. It felt horrible.

    But of course, that is not “Elder Packer’s method”, merely your interpretation of it. Elder Packer didn’t say to claim you “know” things that you do not; he said to testify. And has been taught numerous times through numerous generations, both in scripture and by our living leaders, we testify of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel and of the truths of the Restoration, not that the Republican Party is true or that the Lord told me I am supposed to marry the pretty girl in my FHE group.

  42. #47 Thomas (missed this the first time):

    The question was, how do you bear testimony of something when you don’t have any witness of it at all.

    I believe that Elder Packer’s point is that you do have some witness of it, and that witness is found and reinforced when proclaiming it. Don’t say that you “know” something when you only believe it — just say you “believe” it. But in that testimony, you might find that God reveals to you that “it” is a true principle, and that you do in fact know it by revelation.

  43. It’s not “my own prejudices,” Vort, as I have difficulty believing you’re not aware. From Elder Ballard’s address “Pure Testimony,” at http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?locale=0&sourceId=d1d2a7b37c11c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

    “My experience throughout the Church leads me to worry that too many of our members’ testimonies linger on “I am thankful” and “I love,” and too few are able to say with humble but sincere clarity, “I know.” As a result, our meetings sometimes lack the testimony-rich, spiritual underpinnings that stir the soul and have meaningful, positive impact on the lives of all those who hear them.”

    See also Elder Uchtdorf at http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=315988f17feae010VgnVCM100000176f620a____&vgnextoid=f318118dd536c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD. “Testify” has a common meaning in Mormon culture. “Testimony” is predominantly equated with “knowledge,” therefore, to testify is to declare knowledge. That’s consistent with the meaning of the word in the legal system, as you noted in #43 above: “you testify of things you know.”

    This is not an unreasonable interpretation, although I grant that it’s possible Elder Packer could have been trying to express something different, and used “testify” to connote something other than its most common LDS and legal meaning.

  44. It’s not “my own prejudices,” Vort, as I have difficulty believing you’re not aware. From Elder Ballard’s address “Pure Testimony,” at http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?locale=0&sourceId=d1d2a7b37c11c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

    “My experience throughout the Church leads me to worry that too many of our members’ testimonies linger on “I am thankful” and “I love,” and too few are able to say with humble but sincere clarity, “I know.” As a result, our meetings sometimes lack the testimony-rich, spiritual underpinnings that stir the soul and have meaningful, positive impact on the lives of all those who hear them.”

    “Testify” has a common meaning in Mormon culture. “Testimony” is predominantly equated with “knowledge,” therefore, to testify is to declare knowledge. That’s consistent with the meaning of the word in the legal system, as you noted in #43 above: “you testify of things you know.”

    This is not an unreasonable interpretation, although I grant that it’s possible Elder Packer could have been trying to express something different, and used “testify” to connote something other than its most common LDS and legal meaning.

  45. #51 Thomas:

    It’s not “my own prejudices,” Vort, as I have difficulty believing you’re not aware.

    On the contrary, Thomas, it is exactly that. Look at your example:

    My experience throughout the Church leads me to worry that too many of our members’ testimonies linger on “I am thankful” and “I love,” and too few are able to say with humble but sincere clarity, “I know.”

    Note the requirement for sincerity. Elder Ballard seems to be saying that we can’t stop working to increase our testimony and devotion at the “thankful” and “love” (and, I would add, “believe”) stage. We need to keep working to go deeper.

    “Testify” has a common meaning in Mormon culture. “Testimony” is predominantly equated with “knowledge,” therefore, to testify is to declare knowledge.

    I am not qualified (as I think you also are not) to declare finally what something means in “Mormon culture”; but in LDS doctrinal teaching, “testify” has a well-defined meaning: “To bear witness of revealed truths.” Often, that revelation rises to a level of certainty that justifies saying “I know such-and-such to be the case”, but other times it may not.

    The fact that the catchphrase “I know” is commonly misused among Latter-day Saints does not establish doctrine, nor does it define testimony.

    This is not an unreasonable interpretation, although I grant that it’s possible Elder Packer could have been trying to express something different, and used “testify” to connote something other than its most common LDS and legal meaning.

    I assume Elder Packer was using “testify” to mean what the word “testify” usually or always means in an LDS doctrinal context. And that meaning is not synonymous with saying “I know”, regardless of what anyone might think constitutes typical LDS practice.

  46. Vort, there’s a post awaiting moderation that’s substantially the same as the one you see — it got held because I posted another link (spam alert!), to an address by Elder Uchtdorf that also equated testimony with knowledge (and “assurance”). I am sure that each of us could Google up any number of addresses where “testimony” is equated with knowledge. This is not just a Bitter Fruity Apostate venting his “prejudices.” But I will readily confess to a prejudice here, flowing from my distinct impression that in Mormon circles — and as aptly demonstrated by your arguments above — many of us would rather err on the side of appearing certain, than on the side of selling our convictions short. Is it possible that Elder Packer’s zeal to defend the faith may have led him, on this one occasion, to suggest that Mormons declare that they entertain certain propositions more surely than is strictly warranted?

  47. #55 Thomas

    Is it possible that Elder Packer’s zeal to defend the faith may have led him, on this one occasion, to suggest that Mormons declare that they entertain certain propositions more surely than is strictly warranted?

    Possible? I don’t know. Certainly unlikely. An apostle is not in the business of telling people to lie about sacred things, I think.

    an address by Elder Uchtdorf that also equated testimony with knowledge (and “assurance”).

    I gather you’re an attorney, Thomas. Assuming Elder Uchtdorf said what you suggest he said, are you then saying that because a person uses a word in one way one time, therefore that word means exactly that same thing in every context?

    Just as you are not a Bitter Fruity Apostate, I am not Mister Anal Word Man. I try to understand both the meaning of our leaders’ teachings and the intent of those teachings. I realize there are many on this site who would be only too happy to “catch” an apostle in a lie, as they suppose. Such a hobby is not merely unhealthy, it is unholy. To suggest that an apostle advocates lying (or being disingenuous, or dissembling, or equivocating, or prevaricating, or deceiving, or whatever other terminology you care to use) is a grave thing; certainly no one ought to do such a thing lightly.

  48. Hi, jumping in semi-off-topic:
    GBSmith, The Jesuits are known for having a certain skill in making an argument? That’s cool. This summer I applied for a Jesuit school (got rejected) so I had to stuy and write about the Ignatian Principles for my personal statement and was really impressed with them. 🙂

  49. “To suggest that an apostle advocates lying (or being disingenuous, or dissembling, or equivocating, or prevaricating, or deceiving, or whatever other terminology you care to use) is a grave thing; certainly no one ought to do such a thing lightly.”

    Lying for the Lord was established with Joseph Smith and his public denials of plural marriage and continued through the early 1900s with many church leaders. They felt it was the right thing to do given the circumstances. Doesn’t change what they did.

  50. On my mission to Brazil, before blacks got the priesthood, my mission president came out with a policy that if we were unable to determine the lineage of a potential investigator, we were to tell them that we are in the neighborhood conducting a genealogical study and we were to ask them if would they like to participate. We were not to actively proselyte to blacks.

    Even as a stupid 19 year old, I did no such thing.

    While my mission president was not an apostle or prophet (he did become a seventy), he somehow felt good about lying to people.

  51. Hey Vort,

    You’re losing the word battle with Thomas over the “I know vs.Testify”. His post #51 is spot on and your rebuttals don’t match your usual standards. I suggest that you graciously concede defeat.

  52. #57 —

    As an initial matter, in my field, accusing the other man of “prejudice” gets no traction as argument. Of course he’s prejudiced. So are you. So’s everybody. The only question is, who’s got the stronger argument? Who best presents his own case, and answers the opposing argument — without distorting it, which always gets caught?

    Under all the circumstances, it’s my best judgment that the address “The Candle of the Lord” did at least give the impression that Saints should push on the frontiers of the levels of certainty they are willing to declare. To the extent that the language of the address is ambiguous, I base my interpretation on the context: Elder Packer was specifically answering this question: “How can I bear testimony until I get one?…If I do not have such a testimony, would that not be dishonest?” Elder Packer’s answer, though long, is ultimately “no.” You can, he says, honestly bear a testimony without having gotten one yet — because, he says, you will get one by bearing it. Leave aside the precise definition “testify” generally has in Mormon culture (although I find it hard to believe that your experience has been substantially different from mine, i.e., “you testify of things you know”; see #43). Elder Packer is saying that it’s OK to bear testimony (whatever that means) without having a testimony (again, whatever that means), or at least recognizing that you do — because, he promises, you will be given the testimony at the moment you “bear” it.

    This is not “advocating lying” — certainly not intentional advocacy. It appears to have been Elder Packer’s belief that when you take that leap of faith to testify of things you don’t know you have a testimony of, the testimony will be supplied you in the moment you speak — so by the time the words leave your mouth, you do have grounds for believing them to be true. My own experience, though, has been mixed. There are times when following this counsel — as I understood it, and as Church leaders told me to understand it — has left me feeling high and dry, having testified of something that I was no more assured of after I said the words than when I started speaking. Some leaps of faith end with crash landings. Blake Ostler defends basing our faith in Mormonism’s exclusive truth by telling us we can properly trust our own experiences above others’. (See http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2007_Spiritual_Experiences.html.) Well, I know what my experience was, and it wasn’t what Elder Packer said it would be. After reasonable efforts to make as sure as I could that the problem wasn’t with me (aka banging my head against a brick wall, making myself feel dishonest over and over again), I concluded that either I (and pretty much everybody I spoke with) was interpreting Elder Packer’s counsel wrong, or that it was imperfect counsel.

    So what I do now, is express my testimony in the manner I expressed above: “If what I actually have is a faithful hope, then I could honestly say “I hope” or “I trust” or “I believe” or “I have faith” or “I have confidence.” I suppose I could even state it without any qualifier at all: “Jesus is the Christ.” It’s up to the hearer to ask for me to lay the foundation for that statement; if he does, then I tell him honestly that I believe this by the assent of faith.”

    Doubling back to “prejudices,” here’s some more disclosure re: mine. I grew up not particularly well-off, in an area chockfull of swaggering rich entrepreneurs. In church, I often felt myself inferior to people who would declare to know things, whose truth I was diligently seeking, with the proverbial every fiber of their being. Some of those people — very few of them — struck me as genuinely holy people. Others came across as simply cocksure — more or less the same as the rich men on the other side of municipal border. (Mine was one of those neighborhoods realtors pathetically describe as “adjacent” to a fashionable one; it’s since gentrified and been priced to the stratosphere by a housing bubble fueled by unskepticism.) The experience has left me as leery of Big Swinging Dogmatics as Big Swinging [you know]. Matthew 23:8-12 just resonates with me, and inclines me against the thinking that is too happy to be a master, or to acknowledge one, other than Christ. Now maybe this is a function of pride — of me obsessively comparing myself to others, when none of that really matters. Or maybe those cocksure-seeming guys really are just cocksure.

  53. #63, I don’t like to think of these things in terms of winning and losing. As someone said, we ought to prefer clarity to agreement, and even if we don’t agree, Vort’s making his thinking admirably clear.

    But even if this were just a matter of winning and losing, Vort’s got game, and this exchange is most likely going to Game 7.

  54. #58, 59 —

    The Jesuits used to have a reputation for skill at casuistry, or the ability to supply arguments for whatever position needed defending. They were, for instance, often favored as personal confessors for European princes, because of their skill at crafting elegant justifications for whatever the princes wanted to do. During the Counter-Reformation, when loyalty to the Catholic Church was what Rome wanted most, this served the Church well, at least with respect to keeping princes happy and loyal.

    The Jesuits’ reputation for intellectual dishonesty has probably faded; they certainly have a well-deserved reputation for intellectual thoroughness, and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the Society’s founder, are genuinely profound.

  55. #64 Thomas: Then perhaps we are saying the same thing, with the only difference being that you (and apparently your friends) interpret Elder Packer’s words differently from me. In my view, your interpretation has Elder Packer telling us to prevaricate. I refuse to accept that idea without much clearer evidence; therefore, your interpretation is untenable for me. But you apparently don’t see your interpretation as attributing any such teaching to Elder Packer, so you’re okay with it. Fine, whatever. I think my interpretation is both more straightforward and more fitting with the general tenor of his words, but obviously I’m not going to convince you. And that’s fine; I don’t expect to.

    I grew up without much money and around people who mostly didn’t have a lot of money, either. We had a smattering of well-off people in our wards and stakes, some of whom were genuinely Christ-like people, others of whom were, well, not (e.g. the local leader who waved his fat billfold around and said, “This is how much God loves me! This is how righteous I am!”, while his teenage son continued his descent into drug-fueled self-destruction). On the whole, I didn’t find the poor people to be any more virtuous than the rich ones.

    Re: #63, I chose to ignore the comment, not because he thought I was “losing the argument” — which I may well be in the eyes of many — but because he interpreted the whole discussion as some sort of a pissing contest. I rarely argue just to try to win a point, and I never do so about sacred things.

  56. “On the whole, I didn’t find the poor people to be any more virtuous than the rich ones.”

    Yes, I’ve also had that experience (which kinda goes against the whole Christian/Mormon folklore about the noble poor; in my experience, poverty is as likely to make people bitter and lawless as humble.) I just find the pride of the rich a little harder to take than the nastiness of the poor.

    Re: the main point, Elder Packer appears (like you) more comfortable to risk declaring a false certainty, than risk failing to state something with certainty that should be thus stated. I think that approach does more harm than good, but of course I could be wrong. A more cautious approach may inspire less faith; on the other hand, it may also be less likely to set people up for faith destruction, when beliefs formerly held with something like the same certainty as the core principles are held become untenable.

    I think the Church is, in fact, moving away from some of the false certainties of the past. I do not see, for example, books like Doctrines of Salvation or Mormon Doctrine being published today.

    What’s interesting, is that the Catholic Church went through a very similar debate as this in the early years of the 20th century. There are more Scandinavian names in our version of the controversy and fewer Irish and Italian ones, but the arguments are largely the same.

  57. #68 Thomas: Elder Packer appears (like you) more comfortable to risk declaring a false certainty, than risk failing to state something with certainty that should be thus stated.

    I honestly do not know how you could have read what I’ve written and come up with the bolded part above. I think I have made it exceptionally clear that “declaring a false certainty” is a form of lying, that I would hope never to do such a thing, and that furthermore I disbelieve that Elder Packer advocates any such thing. If you like, I will gladly quote from numerous responses I have written to establish that what you say above is manifestly false.

    If the most basic point I’ve been saying all along can be so easily turned around, I despair of having any real communication in such a forum.

  58. #68: I think the driving force behind that particular folklore is the idea that the poor may be a little easier to become humbled, and therefore easier to teach…just an idea, could be wrong. 🙂

    Thomas and Vort: so it sounds like you both agree that we shouldn’t say we “know” a gospel truth if we haven’t yet received a firm confirmation yet? It sounds like you are agreeing but arguing about what you think the other is saying. Again, I could be wrong.

  59. Vort, I was referring to the sentiment you expressed in #35: “If we fervently testify of something that is later proven wrong, well, that sucks. I really hate it. But our duty is not to be 100% correct or make ourselves look brilliant to others. Our duty is to testify of what we’ve been given to the best of our ability. To do less is cowardice, the moral equivalent of those who hold to some social position because they don’t want ‘to be on the wrong side of history’.”

    “That sucks…but…” jumps out at me, as seeming to downplay the gravity of “fervently testifying” to error. You would rather run the risk of the suckitude of fervently testifying of something that is later proven wrong, than run the risk of being a coward by failing to testify to the best of our true ability. The “false certainty” I’m talking about, is good-faith but misguided “false certainty.”

  60. #72 Thomas: My point was that it is inevitable that we may occasionally testify of “false truths”. We can’t do anything about it, except never to testify of anything. I reject that solution as much worse than the original problem.

    We can do ourselves a big favor by limiting our testimony to areas of real depth, such as faith and repentance. We will rarely if ever go wrong there. But on those occasions when we mistake our prejudice for a fundamental truth, we will be in danger of such false testifying. Unless we are almost perfectly in tune with the Spirit, and extremely self-aware, such mistakes are almost inevitable.

    But that is a very far cry from being “comfortable to risk declaring a false certainty”.

  61. #73 — If we limit our fervent testimony to the First Principles that can only be known by faith, then by definition, it is not only not inevitable that we will testify of falsehoods, it is impossible. Or at least it is impossible that the falsehood will ever be revealed: If we were wrong, everybody will be dead and oblivious, and dead men can’t prove you wrong.

    It’s when you testify with every fiber of your being, to things that are capable of being known empirically, where you get into trouble.

  62. #74: This is true. So how do “we limit our fervent testimony to the First Principles that can only be known by faith”? Is it possible for us to divorce ourselves so fully from our life experiences that we always know which elements are revelation and which are not?

    How many early Saints fervently testified that mortal polygamy was absolutely necessary for exaltation? How many used the “curse of Cain” as an illustration of the importance of obedience? Do we dismiss their testimonies as the products of defective people? I think it better to recognize that we, as fallible, carnal mortal people, do not always distinguish in our own hearts between revelation and prejudice, even though the difference may sometimes seem obvious in retrospect.

  63. The point being: We should never be afraid to testify, and testify boldly, of that which we have received. Hopefully, we never mistake our own prejudices for revealed truth — but even if we do, that does not negate our duty and privilege to testify boldly of revealed truth. It just means we need to be more humble and more careful, not that we need to ratchet down our “confidence quotient”.

    Now, if we commonly find ourselves testifying of the evils of organic evolution, or of how the so-called “conflicting commandments” model means that we are justified in occasionally hearkening to the voice of Satan instead of God and that sin just isn’t that big a deal anyway (hey, there’s always the atonement!), then we probably need to rethink our metric for determining which parts of our belief are divinely revealed and worthy of testimony and which are the byproducts of our own intellectual prejudices. But again, this is an indictment of our own poor judgment, not of fervent testimony in general.

  64. “How many early Saints fervently testified that mortal polygamy was absolutely necessary for exaltation?”

    Too many, obviously.

    I keep coming back to D&C 19:31: “And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.” We can fervently testify of God’s reality, and the need for us to repent and be sanctified by him, after all we can do. We can fervently testify of the sensations we choose to believe are the confirmation of the Holy Ghost that the path we are on is acceptable to the Lord. Beyond that? I don’t think we have much business “fervently testifying” of those other things.

    A pioneer Saint might have “fervently testified” to polygamy, based on his having received a spiritual confirmation that membership in the Church was acceptable service to God; the Church taught polygamy, the man might reason, and therefore polygamy and the teachings associated with it must be just as true as the Church. There are at least two flaws in that logic.

  65. #77 Thomas:

    A pioneer Saint might have “fervently testified” to polygamy, based on his having received a spiritual confirmation that membership in the Church was acceptable service to God; the Church taught polygamy, the man might reason, and therefore polygamy and the teachings associated with it must be just as true as the Church. There are at least two flaws in that logic.

    True. So how good is our logic? And are we to be condemned because our logic is sometimes flawed? Or should we keep our mouths shut and never testify of what we have been given for fear that our imperfect logic has led us to an erroneous conclusion?

    We can fervently testify of God’s reality, and the need for us to repent and be sanctified by him, after all we can do. We can fervently testify of the sensations we choose to believe are the confirmation of the Holy Ghost that the path we are on is acceptable to the Lord. Beyond that? I don’t think we have much business “fervently testifying” of those other things.

    Thomas, I agree, but you are missing (or avoiding) my point: We do not, and perhaps in some sense during our mortal probation cannot, always distinguish with 100% accuracy between revelation and prejudice. Even the very prophets called of God to lead his people have on occasion gotten things wrong. This regrettable reality does not remove our duty and privilege of testifying of the truths we have received.

    You have characterized this as “being comfortable to risk declaring a false certainty”, but this characterization is flawed. It’s not being comfortable with false testimony; it’s an acknowledgement that it’s difficult and, perhaps, at some times impossible to understand which parts of your testimony refer to revealed truths and which parts refer to intellectual beliefs or deep-seated prejudices. But we testify boldly anyway, believing that God will make up for our weaknesses, and that the Spirit will confirm the truthfulness of our testimonies to the hearts of those who honestly seek, even if those testimonies are imperfect.

    Even legal testimonies are not perfect. A man can testify that he saw thus-and-such, and be perfectly honest, yet still be wrong. This fact is the nature of our existence. We may think that such things “shouldn’t” happen with revealed truth, but the human psyche is much too complex to model with a simple binary “revelation/no revelation” model.

    Fwiw, I am not convinced that “too many” early Saints testified of the necessity of mortal polygamy. They did their best and walked a very hard road. If their testimonies were incomplete, that doesn’t mean they were false. Perhaps for them, at that time, God really did require their submission to polygamy as a precondition for exaltation. Perhaps it was their “Abrahamic test” that Mormon lore warns us we will all undergo if we hope to live with the Father. Who knows? I’m not willing to discount their testimonies just because they don’t match up perfectly with what we believe and practice today.

  66. Can I just throw in my 2cents and stir up some controversy regarding the whole polygamy thing:

    In my evolutionary psychology class we had to read a book The Myth of Monogamy that went through and described very clearly and concisely that humans are not naturally built for monogamy. It is actually more natural to be polygynous (one man many women) or to be socially monogamous while sexually polygamous (through EPC’s: extra pair copulations). The two authors (who happen to be husband and wife) went through and described all the evidence from the animal kingdom and from the stand point of human anatomy and physiology…

    So maybe polygamy wasn’t this great evil that everybody considers it today and it really was inspired by the Lord and the reason it was discontinued was because it is socially unacceptable to live by any other way than monogamy, even though our bodies aren’t designed for it…

    now, let the heated arguments roll. 🙂

  67. “And are we to be condemned because our logic is sometimes flawed?”

    When we have it in our power to avoid it, yes. Prudence is one of the classical virtues, for good reason. We are not excused from errors, when in the exercise of reasonable diligence, we could have avoided them.

    In my understanding, the exercise of reasonable mental diligence includes seeking to understand the difference between things we truly know, and those to which we give the assent of faith. In my judgment, much of Mormon culture is sloppier than it could be in this respect.

    You have characterized this as “being comfortable to risk declaring a false certainty”, but this characterization is flawed. It’s not being comfortable with false testimony; it’s an acknowledgement that it’s difficult and, perhaps, at some times impossible to understand which parts of your testimony refer to revealed truths and which parts refer to intellectual beliefs or deep-seated prejudices. But we testify boldly anyway, believing that God will make up for our weaknesses, and that the Spirit will confirm the truthfulness of our testimonies to the hearts of those who honestly seek, even if those testimonies are imperfect.

    The problem with that suggestion, is that a Muslim cleric could encourage a questioning Muslim to do the same thing. And if the same method can lead to diametrically opposed sectarian convictions, there’s a flaw with the method. (“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”) If I fervently testify to the exclusive truth of my own sectarian doctrine or authority, and simply ignore the possibility that what motivates me to do so may be rooted in bias rather than revealed truth, I automatically confess that the sectarian across the hall, who by all appearances is doing the exact same thing, is just as likely as I am to be exclusively right. And that, in turn, casts doubt on my own beliefs being right.

    The relativists would say at this point that we should therefore all believe in nothing. To the contrary, I think there are certain core principles that anybody who carefully considers the question, Is there any God worth troubling ourselves with, could identify, and choose whether or not to exercise faith in. These things — God’s existence, his inherent love for his children, the corollary that if there are any conditions to his favor, they are that we love our neighbors as ourselves, the necessity and availability of God’s redemption to us — are things we, or any other conscientious believer, can testify fervently to. Beyond that, we’re in sectarian testimony, left to sort out the details as best we can. Heaven only knows I’m forceful enough when I think I’m right. But except for those fundamental, universal articles of faith that flow naturally from the basic choice to believe in the only kind of God worth bothering with — I am just about as likely as the next guy to be wrong, and so “fervent” testimony that I know those things, would not be appropriate for me to express.

  68. Well, I have loved reading this thread. Talk about a beautiful rainbow of gray. 🙂

    And yes, there is the atonement after all. Probably the most profound statement I read (although I know it wasn’t meant to be interpreted the way choosing to).

    what’s amazing to me is how in depth we can get when -on the grand continuum- we are much closer to agreeing with each other than not.
    Imagine talking to someone we have fundamentally disagree with!

    As far as the comment on male/female anatomy -last time I checked, one penis and one vagina fit together pretty well. And since I don’t see lots of other penis appendages hanging off the male body that other females could adhere themselves to, I’ll choose to continue to look through my monogamous lens. 🙂
    this is a whole other topic fascinating to explore.

  69. Natasha

    I’m not talking about one peepee/one vajayjay type stuff. This is more along the lines of size of sperm compared to size of egg, the fact that there are at least three different types of sperm that all men produce, including “kamikaze” sperm whose soul purpose is to hunt down the sperm of other males in the reproductive tract of a female and destroy them, etc. It really is a fascinating book that I highly recommend. And what’s great is that the authors don’t try to say that we shouldn’t practice monogamy because that’s not how we evolved, they say that its hard, but possible. In the concluding chapter they quote Winston Churchill when he said (originally of capitalism, i believe) “its the worst possible system, until you consider the alternatives”

  70. I will definitely look this book up. Anything with macho sperm is bound to be a good read.
    I completely concede that the Darwinian aspect of life was not monogamy friendly. Yet another interesting conundrum to consider.

  71. Another couple that my EP (evolutionary psych) prof highly recommended (though I haven’t read them) are “Sperm Wars” and “Our Inner Fish”

  72. “#78: Please specify what this “hole” is.”

    Vort, please don’t feel the need to respond to my posts. I am content to sit on the sidelines and simply lob grenades.

    I much prefer the absolute faith of a Mother Theresa shrouded in confusion to the “beyond a shadow of doubt” testimony of a Latter-Day Saint.

    I have mentioned on MM before how much I loved the testimony of a 80+ former bishop in our ward who for as long as I have known him said “I believe” in his testimony, never using the “K” word. This octogenarian was called to the high council in the last year. Since receiving this calling, he says he “knows”. I guess he thinks that is the wording a man in his calling is supposed to use. As a sometimes-golfing buddy of his, nothing in his life has changed other than the title of his calling.

    Your insistence that it’s okay to testify to untruths, to me, is silly. If it isn’t a truth it shouldn’t be “testified” to. Love it, admire it, honor it, believe it, live it. Just please don’t tell me it’s okay to “testify” to untruths because, gosh darn it, “I really thought they were true”. Let’s just “testify” to things we “know for really sure” that happen to be true. In the religious world, I think that a darn short list.

  73. #88 Holden Caulfield: Your insistence that it’s okay to testify to untruths, to me, is silly.

    But this is not honest of you. Nowhere have I suggested in any degree “that it’s okay to testify to untruths”. In fact, I have stated the opposite, many times.

    You cannot possibly have missed my clear insistence that I am not saying what you accuse me of. Such open dishonesty is not conducive to conversation.

  74. When I hear the words “I believe” or “I have faith” it is just as uplifting to my experience as the listener as “I know”. In fact more so. The “I know” usually leads me down the “how do you know” mental path that admittedly is my own issue. Sometimes it can even come across as self-righteous (but maybe that’s unfair).
    I don’t think anyone is saying let’s lie. However, one of the most powerful testimonies I ever heard was “I don’t know, but I want to.”

  75. Vort, clearly I would prefer my comments be attributed to my stupidity than my dishonesty. But since this is an internet discussion between strangers, it doesn’t really matter does it?

    Your words:

    “If we fervently testify of something that is later proven wrong, well, that sucks. I really hate it. But our duty is not to be 100% correct or make ourselves look brilliant to others. Our duty is to testify of what we’ve been given to the best of our ability. To do less is cowardice, the moral equivalent of those who hold to some social position because they don’t want “to be on the wrong side of history”. I can respect and even honor a man who holds wrong opinions and who acts on them in all honesty, but I have little respect for a man who chooses his actions based on what he suspects others may think of him, now or in the future.”

    My take on that is sometimes we are wrong in what we testify, you don’t like it, but it’s better to testify wrongly (less than “100% correct” “wrong side of history” than to be a coward. It is preferable to testify if we are less than 100% correct than not to testify because of what others may think. Sorry, but that’s the best my IQ of 30 can infer. The idea of testifying on “wrong opinions” when is comes to religion doesn’t hold much virtue with me.

    I personally find great beauty in faith and belief. I am uplifted when I hear Rev Gomes of Harvard say, in response to “Is there life after death?”, “I don’t know but I’m interested in finding out. I like to believe the great Christian story that there is a life and a realm beyond this one…but I don’t have any evidence one way or the other.” I am uplifted because he has devoted his entire life to God in the absence of “knowledge”.

    I find no joy in Apostle Mathias Cowley’s assertion in saying that he had performed a number of post-Manifesto marriages for others on approval from the First Presidency and that he had engaged to cover them up, said “I am an not dishonest and not a liar…we have always been taught that when the brethren were in a tight place that it would not be amiss to lie to help them out.”

    You have not said it is okay to intentionally lie like Apostle Cowley, you simply have a lower standard for testimony than I prefer. From what I read, it’s acceptable for you to testify for something you think is true (but in the end may proven untrue) rather than what is ultimate, actual truth in the end. I opt for the wonder of belief rather than the need to say I’m certain (“I know”) when I’m not.

  76. We did an experiment in a French class at the Y where students would make assertions (or testify) of a variety of things – some religious, some just general knowledge or opinion, and after each statement, the students were instructed to listen to the spirit to determine if the statement that was “testified” was confirmed or not. It was surprising to find that sometimes even logical statements that seemed very common-sense to us were not confirmed. It was an interesting experiment that gave me some confidence in discerning valid testimony from (even logical) opinion.

  77. #91 Holden Caulfield:

    Vort, clearly I would prefer my comments be attributed to my stupidity than my dishonesty.

    At some point the distinction vanishes. Willfully ignoring what someone says is not honest, whether you attribute it to stupidity or something else.

    Your words: […] My take on that is sometimes we are wrong in what we testify, you don’t like it, but it’s better to testify wrongly (less than “100% correct” “wrong side of history” than to be a coward.

    This is an oversimplified misrepresentation of my point. You cut out the sentences directly preceding the part you quoted:

    #35 My comment was intended to point out that just because we turn out to be wrong about something doesn’t mean we forever take a tentative attitude toward our own doctrines. Our understanding is fallible, our mental models are flawed, and we don’t understand our own sources well enough; yet we are still required to stand as witnesses at ALL times, in ALL places.

    My clear point, as I have reiterated numerous times, is not that we should testify loudly to things we don’t know, but that we must testify to that which we have been given, even if on occasion that means we have not correctly separated revealed truth from internal prejudice.

    The idea of testifying on “wrong opinions” when is comes to religion doesn’t hold much virtue with me.

    As it does not with me.

    From what I read, it’s acceptable for you to testify for something you think is true (but in the end may proven untrue) rather than what is ultimate, actual truth in the end. I opt for the wonder of belief rather than the need to say I’m certain (“I know”) when I’m not.

    I hold by the adage you invoked that we should not attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity. I am simply having difficulty believing you are that stupid. You continue blinding forward with your statement in #36, “Vort’s reasoning is why I have little regard for testimonies that ooze of certainty. Zealotry at its worst.“, without even bothering to acknowledge that your characterization is wrong — though this has been pointed out numerous times.

    Here is a listing of a few of my comments made in this thread that demonstrates the flaws in your characterization of my words:

    #16: Adding to the confusion is that this is a true principle — that is, certainty is indeed preferable to uncertainty, and “certainty ought to be declared with respect to as many things as possible.” The key is the “as possible” part. If we really have received some piece of knowledge from God, we ought — indeed, we are duty-bound — to declare it as revealed fact. Period. We ought never to minimize, disclaim, or apologize for our doctrines.

    But what happens when we really, truly, deeply believe that something is revealed fact, but it is not? Ideally, we never end up in this position. In fact, our mortal prejudices and short-sightedness make it all but certain that this will happen to us over and over. I see no obvious solution except to be humble, remain close to the Spirit, study and analyze carefully, and always stand ready to follow the example of Elder McConkie (among others) in saying, in effect, “Ignore anything I or anyone else ever said on this matter. We spoke from a position of ignorance. The truth on the matter has been revealed, and I am getting in line.”

    #26: I was speaking of our deep, sincere beliefs that we are absolutely sure form a part of revealed doctrine, but which in fact are not revealed doctrine.

    #29: I’m talking about the ones that were convinced of their testimony, believing it to be established, revelatory truth…My point was that we sometimes are very confident that we are speaking known, revealed, established truth, only to find out there is much more to the story than we understood. So then, are we to assume that everything we know is wrong and never state anything with confidence? No, I don’t believe this. Rather, we continue to teach and testify as we understand and as the Spirit moves us, with the realization that things may not be as we think they are.

    #69: I think I have made it exceptionally clear that “declaring a false certainty” is a form of lying, that I would hope never to do such a thing, and that furthermore I disbelieve that Elder Packer advocates any such thing.

    #73: My point was that it is inevitable that we may occasionally testify of “false truths”. We can’t do anything about it, except never to testify of anything. I reject that solution as much worse than the original problem.

    #76: We should never be afraid to testify, and testify boldly, of that which we have received. Hopefully, we never mistake our own prejudices for revealed truth — but even if we do, that does not negate our duty and privilege to testify boldly of revealed truth. It just means we need to be more humble and more careful, not that we need to ratchet down our “confidence quotient”.

    #79: We do not, and perhaps in some sense during our mortal probation cannot, always distinguish with 100% accuracy between revelation and prejudice. Even the very prophets called of God to lead his people have on occasion gotten things wrong. This regrettable reality does not remove our duty and privilege of testifying of the truths we have received….You have characterized this as “being comfortable to risk declaring a false certainty”, but this characterization is flawed. It’s not being comfortable with false testimony; it’s an acknowledgement that it’s difficult and, perhaps, at some times impossible to understand which parts of your testimony refer to revealed truths and which parts refer to intellectual beliefs or deep-seated prejudices.

    Can you figure out your flaw yet? My contention is that we are not always successful in determining which of our beliefs are “ultimate, actual truth” and which are prejudices that prove to be false. We attempt to testify of the former, and of the former only, but inevitably we sometimes end up doing the latter.

    Your characterization of my words is flawed. If you wish to invoke stupidity rather than dishonesty, fine. You can now have no such excuse, however.

  78. Vort & Thomas:
    I am continually impressed and awed by the level of thought and analytical skill that goes into both of your commentary. Your intelligence and eloquence is equally apparent.

    I will be even more impressed if the two of you would do the following:
    Each write 2-3 points that you feel you are in agreement on.
    Each write 2-3 strengths you see in your “opponent”.
    Apologize for 1 thing you feel has not helped the communication process between you.
    Maybe this is the marital therapist coming out in me, but I hope you’ll humor me. Seriously- I’d be sincerely curious as to what the two of you would come up with. Will you take me on? 🙂

  79. #94 Natasha Helfer Parker:

    Each write 2-3 points that you feel you are in agreement on.

    1. People should not “testify” by saying they “know” things that they merely believe and don’t know.
    2. Fake sureness is detrimental to everyone.
    3. Women smell good. (I’m assuming we’re in agreement on this point.)

    Each write 2-3 strengths you see in your “opponent”.

    1. Sense of humor.
    2. Intelligence.
    3. Clarity of expression.

    “Holden Caulfield” is not my opponent, however I may have addressed him.

    Apologize for 1 thing you feel has not helped the communication process between you.

    1 Corinthians 13:4-7: Charity suffereth long, [and] is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

    I apologize to “Holden Caulfield” for being so uncharitable. I have no excuse; I’m just not a very charitable person. But I am trying, if that makes any difference. Small people get carried away on small issues. I’ve spent my life trying to learn not to be a small person. I’m still taking lessons.

  80. Natasha, you are the best. You can never tell, though, when a therapist is being truthful or simply facilitating the dialogue…..

    Things of agreement

    1. People should not “testify” by saying they “know” things that they merely believe and don’t know.
    2. Being a Latter-day Saint is very important to Vort
    3. Vort was uncharitable (just kidding)–I really don’t care how I am characterized or talked to on the internet, Vort. I find it entertaining either way. That is why when you said you were going to stop your hyperbole the other day, I said I hoped you wouldn’t. For me, MM is a verbal playroom where every now and then this disaffected Mormon learns something to share with his want-to-be-believing wife.
    4. Women smell good (although Vort, you may remember my son is gay, so who knows what else I think….)
    5. Holden Caulfield must not read all of the words of a post

    Strengths in opponent

    Clarity, conviction, persistence, love of his faith

    Apology—-

    Since Vort believes #1 I obviously need to apologize for misreading his statements.

  81. I have always felt that we live in neither a black and white OR gray world; we all live in a world of COLOR. In using the analogy of physics, when light level is low, our eyes (via the cones) no longer can detect color since color comes from light, thus making everything shades of gray and more difficult to properly discern; some things appear to be the same shade when in reality they aren’t. The more full-spectrum light we have, the more clear and vivid the colors become. In life, that translates to having things that definitely ARE things that are “black and white” (things that are clearly right or clearly wrong) but also things that vary from person to person or from situation to situation; i.e. different colors and different shades. Through the influence of the Holy Ghost we can have that additional full-spectrum of light to help us see the vivid colors; that is to see the difference between the Spirit of the Law vs. the Letter of the Law; to know when to apply those absolutes and those things that are more conditional.

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