Friday, March 11, 2011

Exactly What Must Be 100% True or 100% False?

One of my biggest problems with human nature, in general, and the way that members, in particular, tend to interpret things is the tendency to read something applied to one thing or person and extrapolate it to everything or everyone else.

Let me give two examples to illustrate my point:

1) Oliver Cowdery was told how HE received a witness from the Spirit. HE felt a burning in HIS bosom, and HE experienced a stupor of thought in HIS mind. That passage says absolutely nothing whatsoever about how anyone else will or should recognize the influence of the Spirit in their own life - nothing, at all. However, members and missionaries alike tend to promise others that they will feel it in that exact same way. I rarely feel it that way, and I know others who rarely feel it that way, but thousands of people are being told that is how they can experience it. That really is a HUGE concern and pet peeve of mine.

2) Moroni 10:3-4 promises those who remember, read, ponder and pray that God will manifest the truth of the Book of Mormon unto them - but it says absolutely nothing about how that will be done - how any particular reader will experience that manifestation. It also does NOT say in those verses that everyone who reads will "know" it is true; all it says is that the truth will be manifest somehow. One person might feel it is true; another one might sense it is true; another might have a classic Cowdery burning; one might have a powerful dream; one simply might feel compelled to continue reading it and be drawn into it inescapably; one might experience it in a way that is unimaginable to you and me. Only one of these "manifestations" match Oliver Cowdery's method of manifestation, but each and every one is "real" to the person involved.

President Hinckley didn't say, "Every single thing taught in the Church either is 100% true or else the Church is a fraud," nor did he say, "The Church is never wrong or else it is not of God." What he said, in essence, included three foundational claims: 

1) Joseph spoke with God (somehow)

2) Moroni appeared to Joseph, who "translated" the Book of Mormon (somehow); and 

3) the Priesthood authority to perform eternal ordinances was restored (somehow)

Either those three things happened (again, somehow) or they didn't. Either heavenly personages appeared to Joseph (somehow), or he made it up. They either are "real" or "fraudulent". Joseph either believed in his visions, or he lied about them intentionally. He either was sincere, or he was a fraud. That's essentially all Pres. Hinckley said in the quote.

To me, the crux of his comment is that either Joseph was telling the truth about the biggest things (the heavenly manifestations), or he was a fraud. Either he believed it, or he faked it. I can accept that, since I couldn't remain faithful if I was convinced he lied about those foundation things. There are lots and lots and lots of things that I believe are totally open to ambiguity and mistakes; the heavenly visitations/visions aren't among them - even though I think there are multiple, legitimate ways that those visitations could have occurred without being fraudulent.


Paul said...

I agree that people tend to take Hinckley's statement to the extreme, but your "somehow" qualifier takes it to the other extreme.

"We declare without equivocation that God the Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, appeared in person to the boy Joseph Smith.... Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not occur."

There is no room there for "somehow"--clearly GBH declared that they "appeared in person" or they didn't.

Papa D said...

Paul, the "somehow" is mine - since we call it the "First Vision", NOT the "First Visitation". It has been interpreted as a physical manifestation by many members and leaders throughout our history, but it wasn't presented as such at the time and still isn't worded as such in its "title".

I'm fine with people believing it was a personal visitation (and, for all I know, it might have been) - but it doesn't have to have been that type of experience, Pres. Hinckley's belief notwithstanding.

Clean Cut said...

A very good post, Papa D. I wouldn't change a thing--including the "somehow."

ji said...

Thanks! We see through a glass darkly, and our language is a limiting factor in our communications. There are a lot of happenings that occur, somehow -- and then many years later they are portrayed in art -- sometimes (too often in LDS culture, because we don't have a diverse art tradition?) the artist's good faith depiction becomes the reality for others.

Richard Alger said...

Papa D, It is interesting that you say that that Joseph had a vision not necessarily that it was in person or that God the Father and Jesus were physically there. It seems clear what President Hinckley believed. Why don't you believe him? He said it during conference as the prophet.

It seems to me that is the purpose of the modern day prophet, to clarify and declare what is and what is not. It is not more important what the modern day prophet says on a subject than a previous prophet?

What was the position of the other presidents of the church?

I appreciate your position to take nearly everything figuratively but sometimes it just presents itself to me as wishy washy. I really do not mean offense. I just wonder why you do not take Gordon Hinckley at his word. Why you do not believe what he and what I think the other modern day prophets have declared.

ji, I agree with your comment too. I have to remind my children that what is present in pictures and videos is not necessarily exactly how it happened. The artist necessarily must fill in details that are not in the records from the witnesses.

Papa D said...

Rich, again, I have absolutely no problem with people believing it was an actual, physical visitation - and it actually might have been. However, when you read the actual account itself, and when you look at how it has been termed ever since it was recorded, it doesn't have to have been a physical visitation - Pres. Hinckley's belief notwithstanding. That's not "wishy-washy"; that's trying to parse the actual words Joseph himself used to explain his experience.

I can say that largely because I've never believed in prophetic infallibility. There are lots of things that are assumptions for each of us that we simply never examine because we assume they are true - and if even Joseph himself was wrong about some things in the Book of Mormon (at it is clear to me that he assumed it said some things that it simply doesn't say), then I have no problem with other members (including prophets and apostles) having similar assumptions that color their views. I know that's true of me, and I have no problem with our prophets and apostles being imperfect mortals with limited understanding of many things. (Elder McConkie's statement following the lifting of the Priesthood ban might be the best, clearest, most profound statement ever uttered with regard to how we should view things that our leaders say - with a believing heart, but not as infallible pronouncements from on high in every case.)

There are LOTS of things that become entrenched within "doctrine" that might or might not be "truth" - and I think this is a great example.

For example, we often say that Joseph learned that God has a physical body because of the First Vision - but there really isn't anything in the account to support the idea that he learned such a thing then. That doctrine is taught in the Bible, and it certainly is something I accept, but it just isn't something that is logical to take away from the First Vision.

Papa D said...

Let me make what I'm saying as clear as I can, just it case it still isn't to some who might read this:

I am NOT saying the Father and the Son did NOT appear personally to Joseph Smith. I am NOT saying that at all. It might have been a physical visitation, and I have NO problem with people believing it was that type of experience.

What I'm saying is that such a conclusion is not the ONLY possible or reasonable conclusion. It might have been a classic vision - just like Lehi's vision, and Paul's vision, and Alma's vision, and so many other magnificent visions that are recorded in our scriptures.

That's all I'm saying, and I'm saying it based on how Joseph himself described it and what we still call it.

Richard Alger said...

I would be interested to know what if anything prompted this post. Why is it important to point out that (in the official canonized version) Joseph did not have the same experience the Nephites or the ancient apostles had by physically touching the resurrected Lord?

Papa D said...

What prompted this post?

Honestly, Rich, someone I know and about whom I care being told that if he doesn't interpret the First Vision as a literal, physical visitation (and even something like Jonah and the whale as a literal event) then he doesn't belong in the Church - that he is an apostate and might as well not attend church.

That was the genesis of this post - that it's ok to view many things differently (even something like the First Vision) and still be a faithful, believing member of the LDS Church.

Richard Alger said...

That puts a different perspective on your post. Someone I care about has chosen not to come to church because of a serious misunderstanding that we must always accept every calling regardless of the stress that it may put on the family.

I appreciate you explaining it. I figured it must be in response to something.

I agree completely. I guess I just got thrown off by why the distinction is so important. I have never heard anyone talk about it as so critical that we believe in a literal visitation.

Someday I may look up what other modern day prophets said about it. Or maybe I will just tend to my little tomato plants or something else more worth my time.

Papa D said...

"Or maybe I will just tend to my little tomato plants or something else more worth my time."

Thanks for the smile. *grin*

You know, I really love what I call "pure Mormonism" - and I really love the general membership - and there are relatively few members where I have lived over the past 12 years who say things like that - and I have come to accept that everyone needs to find a paradigm that works for them individually and that what works for one person might not work for someone else - and I am not bitter or "upset" or offended to any degree about things like this . . . but I do mourn for those who are trying their best to live according to the dictates of their own consciences who hear things like what I and you shared.

It's especially hard in a case like what you shared, since Elder Packer made it crystal clear in the CHI training that people and families are created to staff the Church but that the Church exists to serve and help people and families.

I love the Gospel; I love the LDS Church; I really do love the membership, even those who frustrate me sometimes. The frustrating aspects just have such consequences, sometimes - and I ache for those who face those consequences.

Papa D said...

Huge typo alert:

I typed, "Elder Packer made it crystal clear in the CHI training that people and families are created to staff the Church but that the Church exists to serve and help people and families."

I meant to type, "Elder Packer made it crystal clear in the CHI training that people and families are NOT created to staff the Church but that the Church exists to serve and help people and families."

The "NOT" is important, obviously.

Richard Alger said...

I paraphrased Elder Packer's sentiment (I didn't remember it was him or the quote) from the recent world wide trainings. My friend had never felt that is was OK to turn down a calling. It was either all or nothing. I feel confident that he will come around sometime.

Even when I don't see eye to eye with you, I feel from you a gush of love that I associate with the Divine.


Anonymous said...

Difficult when the interpretation of local leaders is an all or nothing-we were denied recommends when DH asked for time to get his house in order when our family was in crisis and a call was extended.Being temple worthy was about all we felt we could do for our kids at the time,and it was traumatic.The wonderful tolerance that you show is often not on offer to the arbiters of wether we are out or in.