Why Faith Needs Reason

Andrew curiosity, doubt, faith, FLDS, LDS, Leaders, Logic, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, obedience, polygamy, prayer, prophets, questioning, religion, testimony, theology, thought 31 Comments

The tragedy of 9/11 had a big impact on my views about the relationship between faith and reason. As I watched the video footage of the jumbo jets flying into the World Trade Center towers over and over again, it dawned on me that I was witnessing the destructive power of faith unchecked by reason. Consider for a moment the faith proposition that motivated the 9/11 hijackers: “If you slit a few throats to hijack a plane and then fly that plane into a skyscraper, killing yourself and all your comrades along with thousands of civilian men, women, and children, then God will reward you in Heaven with 72 virgins who will provide you more sensual delights than you could ever have hoped to enjoy during mortality.” Viewing the fruits of the hijackers’ faith — the twisted steel and endless ash, the homemade “Missing” flyers plastered everywhere, the sobbing relatives of the victims — I couldn’t help wishing the hijackers would have run that faith proposition through the wringer of reason before deciding to act upon it.

Faith needs reason because faith unchecked by reason can be just as deadly as reason unchecked by faith proved to be in the gulags of Soviet Russia, the Cultural Revolutions of Maoist China, and the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia.  (Would Stalin, Mao, and Pot have ordered the killings of millions if they had had faith in an afterlife and final judgment?)

We Mormons are certainly not immune to the potential dangers of unquestioning faith.

Brigham Young once said he feared that members of the Church would “settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation . . . .” (Journal of Discourses, 9:150 [quoted by James E. Faust, “Continuous Revelation,” Ensign, Nov 1989, 8].) When unconditional confidence in our church leaders is so often hailed as a virtue, one wonders what Brigham had in mind exactly when he warned church members against “trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in [our] salvation”. I wonder, what are “the purposes of God in [our] salvation” that are potentially thwarted by “reckless confidence” in church leaders?

In a similar vein, Brigham taught that we Mormons still have work to do in identifying and rooting out erroneous beliefs held among us. He explained that we receive revelation “line upon line” only to the degree that we have first thrown off “our false traditions and foolish notions”. [1] For me, hearing an LDS Prophet acknowledge that even we Mormons have “false traditions and foolish notions” suggests we have an ongoing obligation to critically evaluate our longstanding doctrines, policies, and practices to determine whether any of them are, in fact, false and foolish.

Of course, the greatest obstacle to identifying our “false traditions and foolish notions” is our own unwillingness to critically examine ourselves. There is no doubt that critical evaluation of our doctrines, policies, and practices is a delicate art in LDS circles, and there are plenty of examples of how not to criticize the Church. However, if done properly, critical evaluation can help us identify the false traditions and foolish notions among us so that we may lay them off, and thereby open our hearts and minds to new revelation from God (the Church’s re-evaluation and abandonment of the pre-1978 priesthood ban being an excellent example). In other words, when done properly, critical evaluation does not tear down the Church, it builds up the Church.

But despite our having successfully cast aside certain false traditions and foolish notions in the past, and despite the scriptural warnings against being lulled into an “all is well in Zion” mentality, there persists a strong resistance to the idea that other false traditions and foolish notions may still exist among us. As a result, when reasoned inquiry suggests that a longstanding doctrine, policy, or practice may be a false tradition or foolish notion that we ought to cast aside, such suggestions are often met with a host of misquotations, misinterpretations, and misapplications of scripture and doctrine that collectively promote the idea that true faith requires us to continue to adhere to the officially established status quo, even if it seems to be erroneous in our reasoned judgment. (Might that be the “reckless confidence” Brigham Young warned us against?) And the problem with that approach is that it can potentially lead people to embrace all manner of falsehood and evil, and in the cleverest manner of all: by convincing people that true faith requires them to ignore their reasoned judgment.

To illustrate my point, I’ve presented a fictional conversation below between an FLDS leader and an FLDS teenage girl. In the discussion below, an FLDS teenage girl is having reasonable doubts about FLDS doctrines, policies, and practices. At every step of the way, her FLDS leader gives her familiar responses designed to reinforce the idea that God is testing her faith by seeing whether she will unconditionally obey her church leaders regardless of her reasonable objections. As you read the conversation below, ask yourself this one question: Should this FLDS teenage girl abandon her reasonable doubts about FLDS doctrines, policies, and practices and exercise unconditional faith in her church leaders? Or should she listen to her inner voice of reason and common sense, and reject the faith propositions that her parents and leaders are attempting to foist upon her?

FLDS LEADER: Susan, I hear rumors your faith in President Jeffs and the Brethren is weakening. What’s going on?

FLDS GIRL: Well, brother Jeppson, I have to be honest, I have been having serious doubts about whether everything President Jeffs and the Brethren are doing is right, and whether everything they’re telling us is true. I feel so confused, and the more I think about what they’re doing and what they’re teaching us, the less sense it all makes to me.

FLDS LEADER: Young lady, God will never give you doubt or confusion. Satan is the author of doubt and confusion. God gives you faith. You need to have faith, nothing wavering. Doubt not.

FLDS GIRL: I’ve heard that before, but I just can’t help having all these questions about whether the things our church leaders are doing are really God’s will.

FLDS LEADER: Be careful, young lady, you shouldn’t be questioning if what our church leaders do and say is right. Follow the Prophet, President Jeffs. Don’t go astray. And be very careful, because questioning the Brethren is the road to personal Apostasy.

FLDS GIRL: What does personal Apostasy mean?

FLDS LEADER: It means rejecting your church leaders, which cuts you off from the one true church and God.

FLDS GIRL: So when you say that questioning our leaders can lead to personal Apostasy, you’re saying that questioning our leaders can lead to disagreeing with our leaders and rejecting them?

FLDS LEADER: That’s right.

FLDS GIRL: But why should we fear disagreeing with our leaders and rejecting them if they are wrong?

FLDS LEADER: Susan, how could you possibly think the Brethren are wrong?

FLDS GIRL: Well, for one, it just seems that so much of what our FLDS leaders do and teach couldn’t possibly be inspired by God.

FLDS LEADER: Well, God’s ways are higher than man’s ways. It doesn’t make sense to you because even God’s foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of men.

FLDS GIRL: I know its not wise to reject God’s ways, but how do I know that what FLDS leaders are saying and doing is God’s way?

FLDS LEADER: Susan, surely you’ve heard that scripture enough times. “Whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same.” There you have it. If our leaders say it, it’s the same as God saying it. If President Jeffs says it, then you can rest assured it is God’s way.

FLDS GIRL: I’m not so sure that’s the correct interpretation of that scripture. I read that scripture as saying if God says something to his servant, and his servant says it to us, then that indirect communication through a servant is the same as God saying it directly to us. In other words, if A says something to B, and B says it to C, then it’s the same as A saying it to C. But that’s quite a different proposition than the idea that everything B says to C must have come from A. That’s just bad logic.

FLDS LEADER: Bad logic? It seems to me you’re using the philosophies of men. And frankly, I don’t know where you get off thinking you have authority to interpret scripture for yourself. FLDS leaders alone have the authority to interpret scripture. And because we are God’s modern-day Prophets, what we say is new scripture, even if it seems to contradict existing scripture.

FLDS GIRL: I’m sorry, but I just can’t buy into that.

FLDS LEADER: You can’t buy into it? Young lady, you need to be humble. Be obedient. Be teachable. Be submissive. Don’t be so prideful and arrogant as to think that you are better able to discern the truth than your leaders who have decades of experience with matters of the Spirit.

FLDS GIRL: I’m sorry, but it just seems ridiculous to me that God would place in the hands of a select few men the ability to discern the truth, and then expect the rest of us to follow them no matter what.

FLDS LEADER: You’ve misunderstood me. I never said that FLDS leaders alone have the ability to discern the truth. You have the ability to know for yourself that FLDS leaders are God’s chosen prophets, seers, and revelators. First you must desire to believe, then you need to pray and ask God in faith, nothing doubting, if what the Brethren tell you is not true, and God will tell you that it is true.

FLDS GIRL: Well, I’ve done that, several times, but I don’t sense God confirming to me so many of the things the FLDS leaders and teaching and doing.

FLDS LEADER: Well, the Holy Spirit can only communicate with you if you have clean hands and a pure heart. Susan, is there any sin or other misdeed in your life that could be preventing you from feeling the whispers of the Holy Spirit?

FLDS GIRL: Sins and misdeeds? I’m sure I have plenty. The Bible teaches us that we have all sinned, and that not one doeth good. The Book of Mormon teaches us that we can’t count all the ways we can offend God. So I’m sure I have many sins.

FLDS LEADER: Well then, now we’re making progress. You need to repent of your sins, and when you’ve fully repented and abandoned all your sinful ways, you’ll be able to feel the Holy Spirit confirming the truthfulness of FLDS teachings. And if you do that and still can’t feel the Holy Spirit confirming the truthfulness of FLDS teachings, then you need to keep repenting until you can.

FLDS GIRL: Maybe I should have been more clear. Although I am sure I have sins, I can assure you that I am not guilty of any serious sins or transgressions. Like Joseph Smith, I can honestly say that “while I frequently fall into many foolish errors and display the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, lead me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins.”

FLDS LEADER: Well then, if you are certain your heart is sufficiently pure to receive revelation, then all you need to do is give the Lord more time to give you a testimony. Be patient and exercise faith by doing whatever your leaders tell you to do. And by so doing, over time, maybe even after years or even decades, you will receive a testimony that what they are telling you is true. But don’t abandon the faith of your fathers. Endure to the end.

FLDS GIRL: I’m sorry, but I just can’t spend my whole life obeying orders and believing things that don’t make sense to me, hoping that one day, years or decades down the road, I might finally get a witness of their truthfulness. What if decades go by and that spiritual witness never comes? By the time I realize it was all wrong all along, it will be too late; most of my life will have already gone by.

FLDS LEADER: But you don’t have to worry about that, Susan, because if the Prophet tells you to do something and it’s wrong, and you obey it, then the Lord will only reward you for your faith and will never punish you for it. But don’t worry, because the Lord will never allow President Jeffs to lead us astray in the first place.

FLDS GIRL: I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t make any sense to me that God will reward me for doing something erroneous because I chose to disregard my reason and follow the commandments of men who claimed to be divinely inspired but weren’t. And I understand President Jeffs thinks the Lord will never let him lead us astray, but what if President Jeffs is leading us astray by telling us that he will never lead us astray?

FLDS LEADER: Listen, young lady, you know what the Proverb says: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not to thine own understanding.” Trusting in the Lord means trusting in his chosen prophets instead of relying on your own understanding.

FLDS GIRL: Well, maybe trusting in the Lord means trusting in his prophets, but how do I know the FLDS leaders are God’s chosen prophets in the first place?

FLDS LEADER: I already told you: repent and be clean, desire to believe, then pray in faith, nothing doubting, and if the answer doesn’t come, just keep obeying and doing what they tell you, and in doing everything they tell you to do, eventually you’ll know for yourself that what they say is true.

FLDS GIRL: And what if I’ve done that and I feel the Holy Spirit has told me something that contradicts what the Brethren have said?

FLDS LEADER: That won’t ever happen, because everything the Brethren say comes from the Holy Spirit. Remember: they will never lead us astray.

FLDS GIRL: I hate to say it, but it seems we’re just going around in circles here.

FLDS LEADER: You know, that’s a really contentious thing to say, and I’m getting really concerned by the contentious tone of your remarks. Stop contending with me and the Brethren. Contention is of the Devil.

FLDS GIRL: So let me get this straight: when our Church rejects all the other religions and churches and their leaders and their beliefs, that’s not contention. And when the Brethren tell members they’re wrong and that they need to get in line, that’s not contention either. But when members disagree with the Brethren, that’s contention?

FLDS LEADER: Young lady, I’m sad to say it, but it’s quite apparent to me that you just don’t have a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

FLDS GIRL: With all due respect, I don’t think it has anything to do with that. It’s just that so much of what our FLDS leaders are doing and saying these days seems to just defy plain common sense; it seems so illogical.

FLDS LEADER: But don’t you see, Susan, that’s the whole nature of faith — believing or doing something even if it contradicts your sense of reason! Do you think it made sense to Noah to build an ark when it wasn’t raining? Do you think it made sense to Abraham to have to kill his own son? But Noah and Abraham defied their “common sense”, their “reason”, their “logic”, and they did exactly what the Lord told them to do even though it seemed not to make any sense at the time.

FLDS GIRL: Look, I completely understand why we would need to follow a direct commandment from God like Noah and Abraham received, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. But isn’t that a very different proposition than the idea that we need to unconditionally follow a man, President Jeffs, even if what he says doesn’t make sense to us? Isn’t that really just asking us to put blind faith in a man?

FLDS LEADER: No, Susan, that’s not asking you to put faith in a man because God is at the head of this FLDS Church. I so testify to you. Unconditionally obeying President Jeffs is not putting your faith in man; it’s putting your faith in God!

FLDS GIRL: Well, I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t make sense to me either. It seems like asking me to unconditionally obey President Jeffs and the Brethren is asking me to put my faith in man.

FLDS LEADER: Susan, I feel impressed to warn you that the eternal fate of your soul is at stake here, so let me get down to the bottom line. Susan, this whole life is really just a test to see if we will do everything the Lord requires of us, yes, even if it contradicts our “logic” and “reason”. And you need to understand that President Jeffs and the Brethren are the only ones on Earth who have the authority to tell us what the Lord requires. So by obeying them, you are demonstrating the faith that God requires of us. And in fact, the more illogical the Brethren’s actions or teachings seem to you, the more faith you are demonstrating to God when you obey them!

FLDS GIRL: So it seems you’re telling me to ignore my sense of reason.

FLDS LEADER: Well, Susan, that’s precisely what true faith requires!

FLDS GIRL: But why would God give us reason and then require us to forsake it?

FLDS LEADER: Well, I guess that’s a question we’re just going to have to wait until the next life to understand.

CONCLUSION

To be clear, the point of the fictional dialogue above is to illustrate how scripture and doctrine can be misinterpreted and misapplied to preach a false version of faith that can be probably found amongst most religions, churches, and denominations — an unquestioning faith; a faith that requires us to ignore reason; a faith that demands unconditional obedience to leaders because of their claimed divine authority. And the problem with that unreasoned faith is that it can lead people to embrace all manner of falsehood and evil by convincing devout believers in any church that the status quo established by their leaders must not be questioned, must not be challenged, must always be right, and must always be followed, no matter how unreasonable it may be.

NOTES:

[1] The full quote is as follows: “[God] would be glad to send angels to communicate further to this people, but there is no room to receive it, consequently, He cannot come and dwell with you. There is a further reason: we are not capacitated to throw off in one day all our traditions, and our prepossessed feelings and notions, but have to do it little by little. It is a gradual process, advancing from one step to another; and as we layoff our false traditions and foolish notions, we receive more and more light, and thus we grow in grace; and if we continue so to grow we shall be prepared eventually to receive the Son of Man, and that is what we are after.” (Journal of Discourses 2:309-318).

Comments

comments

Comments 31

  1. Consider for a moment the faith proposition that motivated the 9/11 hijackers: “If you slit a few throats to hijack a plane and then fly that plane into a skyscraper, killing yourself and all your comrades along with thousands of civilian men, women, and children, then God will reward you in Heaven with 72 virgins who will provide you more sensual delights than you could ever have hoped to enjoy during mortality.” Viewing the fruits of the hijackers’ faith — the twisted steel and endless ash, the homemade “Missing” flyers plastered everywhere, the sobbing relatives of the victims — I couldn’t help wishing the hijackers would have run that faith proposition through the wringer of reason before deciding to act upon it.

    I don’t think their “faith proposition” is any less reasoned than “Continually exercise faith in Jesus Christ, repent, be baptized, keep the commandments, and endure to the end, and you will live with your family for eternity and become like God.” The Islamist terrorist proposition is less reasonable, since its effects are so much more destructive (if wrong), but neither of those propositions is based on reason at all.

  2. “We Mormons are certainly not immune to the potential dangers of unquestioning faith.

    Brigham Young once said he feared that members of the Church would “settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation . . . .” (Journal of Discourses, 9:150 [quoted by James E. Faust, “Continuous Revelation,” Ensign, Nov 1989, 8].)”

    Yes, this applies to many things… even geography.

    I really enjoyed reading “Why Faith Needs Reason.” The roundabouts one gets when trying to discuss things can be unreal.

    For one tiny instance I was recently told by my Stake President that I needed to go to my Bishop and mend fences. I haven’t done anything to my Bishop, but he has not bothered to speak to me in the 6 years he has been Bishop. Not even to ask me to do a job. Not even when I brought another to join the church. Not even when I am in his office for someone to be set apart (etc) or….. not even when sitting in the chapel and he leans across me to speak to the person past me… I guess for some reason, now ward members are supposed to teach the Bishops what they should do.

    In other words, Leaders are not always right. Their lack should not adversely effect one’s faith. Faith without works is dead… and all that…

  3. The members of the LDS Church are no more immune from unreasonable faith as anyone. See MMM. I am sure there are some other, less horrific examples. As we all know, Satan has the ability to disguise himself as an “angel of light.” And to give false information masked as truth. It is up to us to test all things against the standard of truth.

    I suppose you can use any book of scripture to justify an action, even the 9/11 killings, The Crusades, The Inquisition, MMM, etc.

    The Old Testament is full of those stories we regard as a model of obedience to God. but, I think the fundamental message of the Savior is to “Turn the other cheek,” so a call to violence for any reason seems to be out of character, so that might be the first test.

    Your FLDS example is a little more subtle, I think.

  4. Voni:
    I am sorry that you have been treated like that by your Bishop. What a mature attitude you convey even in the face of something like that. You are obviously striving to learn and live life’s lessons. If I personally ever run into something like that, I try to focus on not that people are behaving like that but why they are behaving like that. I think if we take this approach, we can better deal with people around us.

  5. Voni,

    “I haven’t done anything to my Bishop, but he has not bothered to speak to me in the 6 years he has been Bishop.”

    The easiest remedy for that is to follow the Stake President’s advice and to go speak to him. I am sensing a bit of pride in your post. If we feel wrong by another, it is our duty to go to that person. I am surprised you have waited 6 years.

  6. Andrew,
    Thanks for making your example one of another faith so that we can easily see how silly the advice and demands of the leader are. Of course it’s harder to view one’s own position with an objective lens. Our situation in the church is obviously the same however. I’m finding, as I’m increasingly more open about what I really think, that there are more “reasonable” people at church than I thought there would be.

    BUT…few of them end up as bishops, and fewer as stake presidents, and I would suspect that their numbers diminish as you continue higher. Our system of “promotion” rapidly kills off divergent thought and independent reason.

    The thing that I’ve found most frustrating so far in my conversations (which I’ve been having because I’m looking for help and guidance) is a seeming inability on the part of my leaders to, for the purpose of the conversation, step away from a position of blind faith and actually DEAL WITH THE QUESTIONS I’M POSING TO THEM. They simply won’t do it. I’d hope that it isn’t because they lack the wattage to light their brains up enough, so maybe they’re just unwilling because it scares them. So what you get instead are various versions of the circular conversation you’ve described.

  7. I already know where you’re going with this: an attempted justification of the LDS’s wandering away from Joseph Smith’s and Brigham Young’s eternal teachings as the LDS moves ever more to being a church of what’s happen’ now.

    Either a church is a church of God or it’s a church of man. The FLDS is a church of God. The LDS has become a church of man.

  8. “Either a church is a church of God or it’s a church of man. The FLDS is a church of God. The LDS has become a church of man.” I’m pretty sure that’s NOT where Andrew is going. Personally, I would say that you’ve also set up a false dichotomy here: all churches are of man, for man, and doctrines are a combination of man’s understanding and God’s inspiration. You have to apply logic (or discernment) regardless of whose teachings you hear to sift out what is edifying and what is not useful.

  9. Andrew: I enjoyed reading today’s post for numerous reason. The first thing that came to mind was, “My, how we are all so familiar with the line of circular “reasoning” used by the leader in this hypothetical conversation!” It indeed seems like we are all well-versed in using these same arguments to justify the Church’s organizational hierarchy. As far as I know, this hasn’t been explicitly taught to me, but rather garnered over the years through interaction with local church leadership, in sermons and teaching manuals, and in interpretation of key scriptures that get repeated often in church settings.

    At the same time, however, there is something inherently irrational about faith, the gap over which I don’t think reason can bridge completely. Popular expressions include a “leap of faith”, “walking out to the edge of the light and into the darkness”, etc. I think that you are right, Andrew in showing that reason is helpful to raise flags toward irrational, illogical, and/or potentially dangerous or ruinous paths, but at some point we have to make a faith-based decision, one way or another. In the very least, I would hope that our reason would inform our faith-based decisions. But I also acknowledge that intense social pressure to conform, and threatenings of denial of desired eternal blessings for nonconformity, make faithful, reasoned decision-making difficult if a person feels like their path diverges from the prevailing direction of Church leadership. This is true of any religious organization, not just the LDS.

  10. Why was Nephi “constrained by the Spirit” to kill Laban? Why did an all powerful God need Nephi to kill Laban? Wasn’t there some other way? I understand that if Laban lived he would have sent his soldiers to find and kill Nephi and his family, but wasn’t there a very similar excuse used for the Mountain Meadows Massacre?
    What is the difference between someone who is “constrained by the Spirit” to kill another and the 9-11 hijackers? They felt that they were doing God’s will.
    To very poorly paraphrase Gandhi, there is a cause that I am willing to die for but there is no cause that I am willing to kill for.

  11. That question is more interesting because we have Nephi’s internal struggle and “reasoning” in the record. He goes through the consequences of his action in his mind, weighs the most reasonable course of action, and then decides to kill Laban. It’s better for Laban to die than a nation dwindle in unbelief.

    However, we’re still at the same wall, because the Mountain Meadows Massacre could have been justified in perhaps the same way by those who perpetrated it. “These people are threatening us and our way of life and our faith,” etc.

  12. I agree with what I think SteveS is saying – logic is just as prone to error as blind obedience. People who couldn’t reason their way out of a paper bag are sometimes advocating logic over faith because the faulty logic that is driven solely by faith seems to require so many mental gymnastics. It’s true that bad logic may require mental gymnastics. But some things defy logic – they are either useful or not; they are either helpful to you or not. Discernment makes more sense to me than logic in spiritual matters.

  13. Faith without reason has powder-keg potential. It doesn’t necessarily always happen, but I’ve seen enough examples to know that when life circumstances are interpreted ONLY in terms of faith/spirituality/church policy really bad things can happen. Most often on a personal level, but when groups of people let faith accelerate them down unreasonable paths….boom!

    I’ve seen a man divorce his wife and essentially abandon his children using the rationalization that since he didn’t ever receive spiritual confirmation that he should marry her, his temple marriage wasn’t binding, and those kids aren’t even really his because they weren’t supposed to have been born to him under the covenant. Seriously. It’s a guy who’s smart enough to have university degree in a professional, scientific career.

    I’ve seen a financially struggling family decide (on the advice of their bishop!) to double their tithing. The results were predictably disastrous.

    I’ve seen parents who, worried about their teenage children, go to the temple 5 evenings a week to add their childrens’ names to the prayer roll and pray for them in the celestial room. I’m thinking reason might suggest that you could cut that down to once a week and spend 8-10 more hours WITH your kids. Those kids now have nothing to do with the church and accurately believe that their parents are nuts.

    It’s clearly a problem, but:

    1. How did we get there, and what are the factors that are perpetuating the problem in our church right now?

    2. Give our current structure/curriculum/culture, will we see any change?

  14. I think Kuri and Arthur have addressed the matter well by raising the issue of what is at stake. When I am told that I must love my neighbor as myself I take license to allow faith to be my guide. Why, because what are the consequences? If I love my neighbor as myself, and then turned out to be wrong, I’ve still made a friend, done good, maintained moral status quo. The quality of the injunction is independent of the underlying principle I am striving to have faith in. On the other hand, if I am told that I must execute a public official in order to steal some public records, I would need to weigh the evidence of Gods hand in the request much more heavily. I will want to make sure that in this case I am not following a “prompting” of the spirit, but have a clear manifestation of deity that this is his will.

    A point which was brought up in the post I think is relevant, is regarding the old “faith of Abraham” argument:

    “FLDS GIRL: Look, I completely understand why we would need to follow a direct commandment from God like Noah and Abraham received, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. But isn’t that a very different proposition than the idea that we need to unconditionally follow a man, President Jeffs, even if what he says doesn’t make sense to us? Isn’t that really just asking us to put blind faith in a man?”

    We have a tendency to deride someone when, we feel they are demonstrating some level of faithlessnes, by drawing a false dichotomy between what we percieve is their conduct vs. the legends told about Abraham or some other distant figure in questionable history. If we take the story of Abraham and Isaac at face value it must still be remembered that Abraham was not following the directions of a Prophet, said to come from God. Abrahams faith was not tested to see whether he would sustain Church leaders, or a Church, at least not in the way we are asked. Rather, Abraham’s test was to trust that God would keep his covenants with Abraham inspite of some immediate requests which seemed to completely disregard said covenants. Abraham was in some way communicating with the Lord directly and personally, and determined his allegiance to God nevertheless. Isaac on the other hand had to trust in Abraham. It appears from the Genesis text that Abraham did not fully disclose to Isaac his intentions prior to the point where they left their slaves (servants) and headed up to the place of sacrifice. I wonder if this is because Abraham knew that this would be a tough sale? In any case, the point is, unless we are conversant with the Lord in the same manner as Abraham, the comparison should be that members should have “the faith of ISAAC”, not Abraham.

  15. #14- jjackson, the Church and the Brethren get blamed for a LOT of our stupidity and human weakness.

    I decided long ago that I could construct a reasonable intellectual argument to justify almost any belief I wanted to make my own. That means it’s totally up to me to decide what I want to believe and how I want to justify it – which means I can’t blame anyone else for my life or what I choose to believe. I will live the life I want to live.

    That means that while I choose to make my faith (separate from my “religion”) the core, I use my reason to justify my actions relative to my faith. It’s a constant effort, without any real breaks, but it’s worth living a life that really does bring me joy – the kind of joy I have chosen to pursue intentionally and consciously.

  16. #10:
    At the same time, however, there is something inherently irrational about faith, the gap over which I don’t think reason can bridge completely. Popular expressions include a “leap of faith”, “walking out to the edge of the light and into the darkness”, etc.

    Or, as a fictional Protestant minister (formerly portrayed in a certain ritual setting) used to put it when faced with a man who declared that he “could not comprehend” the irrational theories of various preachers, “That’s the beauty of it!” That fictional minister’s words were inherently ludicrous to viewers, yet the same sentiment is expressed over and over, by religionists bent on avoiding their own cognitive dissonance at all costs.

  17. #15 – that’s a good point… the faith of Isaac, not Abraham. Interestingly, in the Qur’an, the son chosen to be sacrificed was Ishmael, he was a young man, he understood what was going on, and said to Abraham “let it be so” due to his faith. Interesting difference, one that I don’t feel qualified in drawing conclusions from.

  18. “Brigham Young once said he feared that members of the Church would “settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation .”

    Brigham Young had some great quotes on thinking for your self. I wonder though if a member in his time would have spoken out and said “Brother Brigham you know that Prophet Joseph wanted the blacks to have the priesthood , why have you over turned it.

    Or spoken out about the Adam God Theory.

    Do you really think he would really back that member for listening to his own reason if it went against the Prophet or Apostles?

  19. From the post: “In a similar vein, Brigham taught that we Mormons still have work to do in identifying and rooting out erroneous beliefs held among us. He explained that we receive revelation “line upon line” only to the degree that we have first thrown off “our false traditions and foolish notions”. [1] For me, hearing an LDS Prophet acknowledge that even we Mormons have “false traditions and foolish notions” suggests we have an ongoing obligation to critically evaluate our longstanding doctrines, policies, and practices to determine whether any of them are, in fact, false and foolish.” I can guarantee you BY was talking about the false traditions and foolish notions that they brought to Mormonism from their Protestant religions. Remember, BY was a convert, a Gen 1. This is also how my Gen 1 parents would view this quotation. I agree with James that church leaders would be unlikely to suggest that things introduced by leaders have ever been false traditions or foolish notions, a fact made particularly ironic by the Protestant origination of the PH ban folklore.

  20. Or spoken out about the Adam God Theory.

    Sorry if this is a bit of a threadjack. My understanding is that there were some members of the 12 during Brigham Young’s presidency of the Church who were privately and sometimes publicly outspoken against the Adam-God theory. Does anyone know more about this?

  21. If Joseph Smith were to show up in Temple Square today, he’d be arrested.

    If he were to show up in any of the FLDS communities, he’d be treated as the prophet of the Church.

    Makes you wonder who is on the right track.

    Churches that change to satisfy the whims of humans and their latest fashions should be suspect.

    For me, what Joseph Smith established is the right way. Not the current wink and nod and let’s pretend he didn’t say or write this that or the other lest it offend some humans.

  22. I’m going to threadjack because there was a part I just…couldn’t get past.

    Faith needs reason, because faith unchecked by reason can be just as deadly as reason unchecked by morality has proved to be in the gulags of Soviet Russia, the Cultural Revolutions of Maoist China, and the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia.

    Firstly, the gulags of Soviet Russia, Cultural Revolution of Maoist China, and killing fields in Cambodia are not examples of “reason unchecked by morality.” “Reason” in no way is responsible for these things. Instead, what you have in these situations are irrational cults of personality or irrational doctrines. And I’d argue that it is this irrationality that people deride, both when it comes from instances of religion or when it arises from instances of political charisma.

    Secondly, “Faith unchecked by reason” and “reason unchecked by morality” are not equivalent statements. The latter statement implies that reason does not have morality in it, whereas the former suggests that faith does have morality in it, but it doesn’t have reason in it. Reason does not necessarily have morality within it in JUST THE SAME WAY that faith does not necessarily have morality in it. It isn’t that faith is inherently moral (or contains inherent morality) and reason is inherently immoral or amoral (or contains no morality). Rather, both faith and reason are completely different beasts from morality, and you have to get morality from some other place than these…when you don’t, then opportunistic people can sweep in with very immoral ideas and do terrible things.

  23. This is one where I definitely disagree with you. I think that first comes the reasonable, or reason practicing man, who then, secondly, exercises faith in the unknown and unseen, and then hope. So faith therefore is built on a foundation of reason and only extends to the unseen ‘After’ reason runs its course. In this context faith can never be checked by reason since they don’t interact.

    Honestly I didn’t go through all that conversation with the FLDS case but from what I did read the teachings of D&C comes to mind, of unjust dominion and erroneous leadership, when priesthood leaders follow the line “because I’m your leader you need to do what I say”, something we have a lot of in our church. But everything associated with God is in the form of an invitation and common consensus. And its an invitation due to both love and our God given free agency. So that girl is entitled to say no and would not be in sin, but go make that ‘prophet’ understand it.

    Oh, the Khmer rouge I’d say did have a moral base albeit a skewed one. They eliminated those they saw as immoral or against the moral fibre of their society. They couldn’t see that their underlying morality was grossly wrong as was the punishments dished out. They remind me of a certain GOP Bush administration….but that’s another matter for another day. 🙂

  24. I think the point of my story (above) was to say that my leader (stake president) is telling me to tell my leader (bishop) what he should do in regards to us speaking. Even though I did nothing wrong, I should tell him he should speak to me, and be the leader in mending fences even though I did not cause the rift. If I were to tell the leader that I knew where, ie. Book of Mormon geography happened, I would be told that that was for a leader to decide and I had no authority. Why is it that the leader (stake president) didn’t admonish the bishop to talk to me (and the other single sisters in the ward(one told me she was treated like she has leprosy… another was “too needy” etc))? I guess I should also tell the bishop to pay me back (tens of thousands of dollars) for all the people that I have cared for because he wasn’t doing his job….???

    Jeff: Why bother, it is nice to not have a job. In other wards I have had 5 jobs at once. I do plenty for people in my neighborhood and for kids after school. I saved the theatre in the town, I started a newsletter. I started a “family home evening group… Way more than most. Have you ever noticed there are a lot of people that go to church on Sunday, but do nothing for their fellowman?

    I’m pretty sure Hawkgirl is right in #9

    Amen Jackson #14

    #16 Ray . Sometimes the leaders are at fault. “sometimes” is the key word (first sentence) But most of all, all of us should be responsible for what we have faith in. The rest of your statement is correct. I have the right to know what I believe and what I choose to do in this life. I know whether what I’m doing is right for me. I should not tell others that they are doing wrong, it is their freeagency at work. If someone tells me what to do, I have the free agency to decide if it is right for me.

    James #19 Well said!

    #26 CarlosJC hmmmm is one allowed to say that about bush. hack hack have trouble saying that name…. i agree with you on that one.

  25. I don’t think Brigham Young supported the idea of critically analyzing what your leaders tell you when he told a married man that his wife now belonged to Brigham Young and that the man should find himself another.

  26. “Hold on,” says a ‘prophet,’ “There are lots of homosexuals and they make a lot of noise, and the federal government is going to ding Utah and the Church if we don’t change. So,I’ve now had a new revelation. Homosexual marriage is now approved by the church and will be taught each Sunday.”

    Meanwhile, Mitt Romney hears the news on his car radio and pulls over and starts crying because he always wanted the Church to have this stance.

    Ho hum. Nope, thanks a lot folks, but I think the FLDS and similar groups have it right to follow what Joseph Smith established for all times.

  27. In the CofChrist, I have had the experience of having to tell members of the leadings quorums (including 3 apostles and a menber of the first presidency — which is a higher administrative line than the apostle in our denomination) things they didn’t want to hear about their favored strategies and approaches on issues about which I have some expertise.

    They were willing to spend a great deal of time examining my evidence and treated me with respect. However, they ultimately decided to lead the church in the direction they had previously felt they should. As this is their responsibility and authority, I have no complaints on that score.

    But that does not, I think, lessen my responsibility to act on what I believe and spent years reexamining and praying about before I ever brought it to them. I long ago decided as a general principle that I would regret less standing before God having done something the leaders correctly told me was wrong because I felt it was morally right, than standing before God having done something I was sure in my heart was morally wrong, even if it turned out to be morally right.

    FWIW, I think God has more reason for hope in me if I’m stubborn and dumb than if I willfully surrender my agency to another to choose for me what I think to be immoral.

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