Saturday, October 3, 2009

Why I Think What I Think (Pt1)

I've been thinking lately about why I think the way I do. I thought it might be interesting, for myself if no one else, to list some of the people who have influenced my world view. This is probably going to be a multi-post topic and I'm not even going to attempt to list influences in order of importance or anything like that.

Joseph Smith

Regardless of my beliefs about whether he was inspired by God or not, or even my belief about God himself, I can't deny that a large part of who I am is directly a result of the life and works of Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Church.

One of the most fundamental ideas that has come to me through Joseph Smith is the idea that large numbers of people, however well educated and however sincere in their beliefs, might be dead wrong. As a child, this was introduced to me through the story of "The First Vision", referring of course to the first vision of Joseph Smith, wherein he claims to have seen God and Jesus Christ in the flesh, and upon asking which of all the churches he should join was told to "join none of them, for they were all wrong." From my current persective, this should have been an obvious possibility to me, given that each religion tends to think all the others have gotten at least some portion of "the truth" wrong. As a child, though, one tends to believe as one is taught.

It probably wasn't until I was in my twenties that I gave serious consideration to the idea that maybe Joseph Smith, himself, was wrong, and by extension maybe so were religious people everywhere, insofar as they claimed to know the truth about God, or anything metaphysical. It's a big step in one's philosophical development to accept the idea that maybe everyone is stumbling around in the dark just like everyone else. It's no small thing to consider that most of the people from whom you've received the very foundation of your world view just might be mistaken. It's even harder, once you entertain that possibility, to then reassess all that you think you know and rebuild your philosophy perhaps even from the ground up.

Joseph Smith also emphasized an idea that has become fundamental to Mormon philosophy and is simultaneously it's greatest strength and it's greatest weakness: the idea that if you have doubts, you should as questions. I've grown up always believing that "The Truth" is out there, and will become apparent if you look hard enough. As missionaries, we touted the promise in The Book of Mormon, which was really just a specific application of the teaching of James, to ask and we'd receive answers. That's hard to refute at face value, since any "answer" is open to a myriad of interpretations. I've even been told that the seeming lack of an answer might itself be an answer.

All too often, though, the answers to the hardest questions in religion seems to be "we don't know". Ironically that's often the answer outside of religion as well. The difference, as I see it, is that within religion we're expected to wait and see what the answer is, almost as if by pushing the issue too hard, the wall might break and the whole of our philosophy come crashing down around us. To be fair, that's not exclusive to religion, but is probably a self defense mechanism of most philosophies once they've been sufficiently defined, and the more they become widely subscribed to. At any rate, and perhaps most ironically, it was the idea of really asking questions of God, and the promise that He would answer, that ultimately led me to reject the fundamental underpinnings of the philosophy that gave me that tool in the first place.

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