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Religion and the Domains of Truth


DonBradley

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Hey All,

I just finished writing my own response an excellent question by Montgomery Price question in his thread "Does Mormonism Depend on Moroni's Promise" and related questions, that is sufficiently extensive that I don't want to take over his thread with it. So, I'm giving it it's own home right here. I've posted it in three somewhat logically divided sections.

It would better be titled "Religion as a Domain of Truth" or "Religion among the Domains of Truth."

Many times, the domain of religion overlaps with science. Each religion makes truth claims about the way the world operates, and many of these claims can be tested on established epistemological grounds such as science and philosophy.

Yes, they overlap, and the places of overlap are probably the most interesting and difficult. But what do we do in more "pure" cases? Is history done using symbolic logic? Is moral judgment done by archival research? Are science and mathematics done using empathy--a vital tool of history, morality, and social cognition?

More on the interesting mixed cases shortly.

If you are suggesting an alternative epistemology for religious truths, on what basis do you establish it's veracity? What leads you to accept the claim that there is a "different" type of truth to begin with?

Why would we not have a distinct epistemology, or distinctive primary epistemological tools, for religious claims--just as we have different epistemological tools for philosophy, history, science, morality, and mathematics, respectively? The sacred texts of religions have always prescribed primary modes of verification distinct from those of the above domains (though overlapping with those of morality), and religionists have always employed such.

The "ancients" at the time most sacred texts were composed had these other disciplines, in at least incipient form. Yet those texts never (or I have yet to see an example of this--do you know any?) propose determining religious truth by an appeal to mathematics, incipient science (such as that which enabled the engineering and invention feats of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Indians, and Chinese), digging into the dirt to locate remnants of the past, or the like. Religion certainly makes use of philosophical discourse, but primarily as it enters a post-revelatory theological phase, which is mostly the business of specialists rather than of the day-to-day faithful, who must verify the faith in other ways.

The religious mode of inquiry, the means of verification proposed by religions, has always been by their moral and experiential fruits and by mystical, or eponymously, "religious" experience.

Religious apologetics, which uses other, non-religiously distinctive modes of inquiry to make a case for faith claims to others appears to have begun on a philosophical level in Late Antiquity and a scientific-historical level during the Enlightenment. But these are latecomers to the table. Religion had been verifying itself to believers for thousands of years.

So, to refuse, at the outset, a distinct religious epistemology for the domain of religion is simply to not take religion seriously on its own terms, rejecting it as a domain from the outsiet, like refusing to acknowledge a distinct domain of moral truth, or philosophical truth, or mathematical truth, etc., but insisting on using only tools and presumptions from the other domains. You can never get to the truths of the missing domain by such a route. You cannot derive an "ought" from an "is," cannot even derive the idea of moral obligation outside of the use of a distinct moral sense or moral intuition. Nor can you arrive at syllogisms or systematic thought about concepts, much less to "The Phaedo," "I think therefore I am," or "The Critique of Pure Reason" without admitting the use of philosophy's primary tool of deductive logic. And so on.

One certainly can block out any of these domains of human experience and inquiry a priori. But it scarcely seems productive or wise to do so.

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Of course, from this starting point complex questions emerge.

First, religions have proliferated and do not all agree. Does this mean that the tests of religious truth don't work?

Second (your question), although primarily focused on the spiritual-experiential, supernatural, communal, and moral, religions make some assertions that overlap with those of science, history, and philosophy. How are truth claims to be sussed out in such cases?

These are needful questions. In the way of preliminary thoughts, I do have a couple suggestions.

On the first question, two things. Taken from the point of view of their primary concerns, religions may not differ as much as it appears they do from the vantage point of theology (a branch of philosophy). In other words, if Hindus experiencing the Ultimate call it Brahman, Taoists call it the Tao, and both attribute certain common characteristics to it (such as omnipresence, infinitude, and the like), might not the differences in their descriptions result from differing cultural lenses shaping or interpreting that experience and differing descriptive metaphors (sometimes reified in their understandings and taken as concrete), like the varying descriptions of the proverbial blind men feeling an elephant? The philosophies and mythologies built around the experience differ somewhat, yet with a common core (as described, for instance, in Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy).

In the West, the Ultimate has been experienced as personal. Yet the difference between the religious experience of East and West is not so stark as it may, on the surface, appear. Even in the East, most religionists have conceived of both an impersonal supernatural (such as the Tao or Brahman) and experienced a personal divine, usually understood to be one of a number of gods. (Rarely is one purely a Buddhist or Taoist. Rather, these broad religions are mixed with local devotion to personal deities.) And in the West, God, though experienced as a transcendent Person, is often, if not generally, also experienced in impersonal, immanent aspects, such as a pervasive force or presence--in Mormon parlance, the universal "light of Christ."

So, at minimum, religious ways of knowing have led to certain common or overlapping understandings. And this common core is actually quite substantial, as both Huxley's book and the more recent Oneness: Great Principles Shared by All Religions by Jeffrey Moses show. (An interesting exploration of the overlap and differences between Christianity and Buddhism, on the level of their respective metaphysics is John B. Cobb, Jr., Beyond Dialogue: Toward the Mutual Transformation of Christianity and Buddhism. And it's intriguing to note one religious founder, our very own Joseph Smith, answering the question "Wherein do Latter-day Saints differ from other denominations in their religious beliefs?" thus: "In reality and in essence we do not differ so far in our religious beliefs but can all drink into one principle of love.")

Is there anything in the domain of religion that can be known beyond these "common findings" of religious inquirers from faiths spanning history and the globe? Do some religions and religionists perceive religious truth more deeply or sharply, or convey it more purely and clearly? Is progress possible in the search for religious truth?

I think the answers are almost certainly yes, yes, and yes. Just as some individuals are more adept in mathematics than others, some are more spiritually adept. These individuals lead the way via their spiritual perceptions better than do less spiritually perceptive persons. (Disciples are often only able to "get" to where their master has gotten because he discovered there was somewhere to "get" to in the first place.) So also different cultures have varied in their scientific, mathematical, philosophical, and moral attainments. Why not, then, in their spiritual attainments as well?

Progressive unfoldment of truth is common to all domains. The broad existing common core of religious truth took millennia to develop, and some of its principles are more jejune in some traditions and more mature in others.

Religion has progressed. It may thus continue to progress, and we would expect as much.

Perhaps as it does, as the principles of identifying and verifying religious truth become more clear, and as dialogue between faiths about their differences continues, we will be able to develop a broader and broader consensus in religion, as we have in science. Not that religion will ever be a science, or that it possibly can or reasonably ought to change into an objective material inquiry, rather than a subjective and intersubjective spiritual one, but the very real possibility is that religionists will tend to converge over time. Indeed, I believe this has been happening, on the whole, for quite some time. The proportion of the human population, in various cultures and faiths, that believes the Ultimate is unitary, is One, for example, appears to have been growing steadily for at least 3000 years.

Only where religious methods of inquiry have been rejected a priori (e.g., under Communism), or where agreement had been held together by force and is no longer (e.g., post-Reformation), has this trend toward agreement on the largest questions reversed itself, and even then, it appears, only temporarily.

Whether this assertion is strictly true or slightly hyperbolic, the progression and convergence of religion has been occurring and is worth exploring. This can fruitfully be done through Rodney Stark's Discovering God and Robert Wright's The Evolution of God. (And note also that Beyond Dialogue, referenced above, deals with the existing and, more ambitiously, prospective convergence of Christianity and Buddhism.)

Finally, on this point, the remarkable theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson briefly sketches a vision for the refinement and future progress of religion in his Infinite in All Directions. Dyson thinks religion, despite its antiquity, is yet in some ways only a nascent field. He doesn't accept any of our current faiths as being "the truth," but sees progress in this domain having been made and being made now, and expects it continue alongside that of science. (A current trend, by the way, with which Dyson's modest predictions appear to be consonant, is one in the direction of process or "openness" thought, a place where East and West meet, and theologians as diverse as Latter-day Saints, cutting-edge Evangelicals, and Catholics are meeting.) Where exactly things will go from here, who knows?

One thing is certain, despite the illusions of the Freudians, religion is with us to stay, and so long as it continues, it will continue to evolve.

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And now, at long last, to the second question, your question.

What do we do when religious epistemic methods seem to point in a different direction than those of science or other domains, or, perhaps we should say when religious claims conflict with those of other domains?

One obvious question to ask in pursuing answers to this question is, "What do we do when findings or claims within or between those other domains appear to conflict?" ...For instance, when the data of physics conflict with the data of physics, as when the path of inquiry via relativity conflicts with that via quantum mechanics? Here we check and recheck, refine our methods on both sides, and then, if that doesn't change anything, we leave each paradigm to operate within the sphere in which it has demonstrated validity and then seek an overarching explanation that can account for the findings of both. We know that neither can be a complete explanation in itself, that at least one must be partly inaccurate, yet, in the absence of something better, use each as if it were complete as it stands, while humbly remembering that our framework is in ways not yet clear to us "off." Because we know that our current understanding cannot be the whole truth, because it fails to reconcile two provisional (yet presently inescapable) partial truths, we seek to integrate the two under a broader framework. This is proving fiendishly difficult. And that is a problem of integrating two findings from within the same domain.

If it is a mistake to view divergent findings within a domain as necessarily posing an either-or, true-false dichotomy, might it not be a mistake of another order to do so with divergent findings between or across domains? Evolutionary scientists posit that our brains, including their moral instincts and logic circuits, evolved merely to help pass on our genes. This, on its own, would not tend to speak well of either logic or morality. Instincts toward selfishness, biased cognition, and violent anger also evolved to help us pass on our genes. The mere fact that something is useful toward that end does not make it a reliable tool for apprehending reality. From a strictly evolutionary (and biopsychological) scientific perspective, there is no basis to our moral "oughts," no normativity to them outside our subjective sense of them--which is a pure product of gene survival--and there is similarly nothing transcendent or normative about logic. Does it follow from the findings of evolutionary biology and brain science, then, there is no normative morality and no normative logic? If so, science, and this conclusion itself, are in trouble, since nothing "follows" from anything at all, nor can there be science, without normative logic; and we are all in trouble, or blessedly free, depending on how one looks at it, because nothing is really right or wrong. All is permitted: go thy way and "sin" on more.

Even should one for some reason object to this specific case in point, this would not change the fact that integrating findings--truths--from within a single discipline can be difficult enough to absorb some of our great minds, working together, for decades, much less integrating findings across entire domains of truth.

Religionists are generally willing to defer such integrations. Critics of religion are not. A constructive LDS example of such thinking would be the statement by apostle-geologist James E. Talmage, paraphrased here, that "The Lord has given us two records of the Creation. One in the pages of the scriptures; the other in the strata of the earth Whenever we perceive a contradiction between the two, we have misread the one or the other." One might make the same statement about the peopling of the earth, and this, indeed, is how Latter-day Saints tend to deal with purported scientific contradictions to the narratives of historical scripture.

Whatever critics might say, there is no inherent unreasonableness to this. Deferring reconciliation is, in principle perfectly rational, and in practice sometimes absolutely necessary, as the mutualy exclusive but unavoidable models in physics show. Reason surely has considerable bearing on how such reconciliation should be carried out and at what point an idea ought to be given up--the "four corners of the earth" was surely better reconcile with the evidence by a metaphorical reading than by commitment to a Flat Earth! But reasonable people can differ on where the lines of plausibility will be drawn, in accordance with their background secular knowledge and their spiritual experience, and perhaps their understanding that the use of contrasting models isn't limited to religious questions.

Ultimately, Latter-day Saints have not only the possibility but the obligation of accepting the truths offered by the various domains and intergrating them as possible. As Joseph Smith said, "It is one of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism to receive truth, let it come from whence it may."

The other major question I think needs to be asked to further explore yours is, "What are the proper subject matter and scope of each domain and its epistemic tools?" Despite the absolute necessity of distinctions between them, the domains can impinge on one another, as philosophy (in the form of symbolic logic) does upon mathematics and science does upon our judgments in history; and can be used by one another, as science makes pervasive use of the distinct and independent domain of mathematics, and morality may use Bentham's quantitative "hedonic calculus." And they can have legitimate boundary disputes, as when philosophy and cognitive science both dialogue and fight about the nature of consciousness.

These questions, of the proper scope of a field of inquiry and its tools, and of how to integrate the findings of the respective fields and tools, is not one I think is going to be answered in a fully adequate way, or to general satisfaction, for quite some time to come. The "fundamentalist" religious answer is that religiously derived notions, taken with strict literalism, negate scientific answers altogether and without question. On the equally fundamentalist scientistic position (not scientific, scientistic, tending to take science as a total worldview, and not a tool or domain of truth--like B. F. Skinner, for whom there were no "oughts" because one couldn't observe them), on this position the answer is worse still, not only rejecting specific religious propositions, but abolishing a religious domain altogether. Another, more fruitful answer has been to attempt to reconcile them by positing that each has its own strictly delimited domain (see, for instance, the very thoughtful Stephen J. Gould's "Non-overlapping Magisteria" and, for that matter, the 1933 First Presidency "decision" on evolution: "Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church"). While this is surely a better approach, the delimitations that have been proposed are not agreed on or understood with the same implications, and probably, at this point, should not be. Boundaries there must be, but where they are located and just how "strict," or how permeable, they are, are the key questions.

Most thoughtful religionists will interpret their religious convictions in light of science and history (etc.), and these other domains in the light of their religious experiences and beliefs. Physical, evolutionary, and brain science aren't going to convince them that they are nothing but gene-reproducing machines, that their actions are wholly determined by the laws of physics, that morality and the experience of the transcendent are just fun brain tricks like deja vu or dreams, and that life has no more "meaning" than the ongoing march of the genome and the progressive winding down of the universe to heat death. And why? Because science is not the only domain of human experience of and inquiry into truth. Nor, however, on the other hand, are scientists going to cease exploring human evolution, the activities of the brain, and the like because religionists experience free will, a transcendent part of their being, and an experience of something beyond the physical, nor because some religionists problematically insist that a particular way of framing their theological truths constitutes an unassailable fact in the material world, because religion isn't the only domain or set of tools either.

The best, so far as I can see, having given science, history, philosophy, and religion, and the relationship between them, a lifetime of exploration, is that we must grant each its reality and its methods, to be used, to be relied on with humility and practical conviction, and to be gradually refined and ultimately integrated, not into a single melody, but a harmony.

Thanks for the interesting and thought-provoking questions.

Cheers,

Don

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I completely agree that each area of inquiry needs its own epistemic tools and it is clear that as one studies each, the difference in tools become evident, as well as the need for a difference of tools.

I also agree that religion evolves as its adherents evolve in their understanding and a tolerance for ambiguity is essential. One must be able to see coherence between diverse traditions, as you have in these great posts, to begin to see the vision of where all this could lead

I think that Mormons are in a unique position to lead forth for example, into areas like process theology, which I think is quite compatible with your point of view, because we are at the heart of it all, Pragmatists (with a capital P) who I think find more affinity with Heraclitus than with Aristotle and with Wittgenstein and William James above the positivists. Our doctrine of eternal progression and an open canon puts revelation at the heart of our system and this openness is the key to our progression theologically and as a people.

Great posts! Thanks!

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I forgot to mention that I also see fundamentalism as one of the great dangers facing us; and this is seen just as much in the critics as it is in the fundamentalists of our own faith. Narrow views of truth functions which apply only to scientific reasoning are obsolete and in fact no longer scientific when one gets into the physical sciences, especially particle physics, where the observer in fact interacts with the observed to the point where one cannot distinguish which is which.

In a world in which the observer and the observed become one, we need to stress an experiential definition of truth, imo, which also recognizes that first person subjective statements can be just as "true" as third person statements about the world "out there" which in itself alters classical epistemic categories.

So a narrow, out-moded logic which perpetuates a Cartesian dualism is at the basis of this fundamentalism, and in my view, should have gone out by at least the 17th century, but it is a view commonly held today by many on these forums.

So to me the question becomes- what does one do to educate the fundamentalists into understanding the greater picture and greater experience which awaits them by learning and using some of these more flexible paradigms?

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Of course, from this starting point complex questions emerge.

First, religions have proliferated and do not all agree. Does this mean that the tests of religious truth don't work?

Second (your question), although primarily focused on the spiritual-experiential, supernatural, communal, and moral, religions make some assertions that overlap with those of science, history, and philosophy. How are truth claims to be sussed out in such cases?

These are needful questions. In the way of preliminary thoughts, I do have a couple suggestions.

On the first question, two things. Taken from the point of view of their primary concerns, religions may not differ as much as it appears they do from the vantage point of theology (a branch of philosophy). In other words, if Hindus experiencing the Ultimate call it Brahman, Taoists call it the Tao, and both attribute certain common characteristics to it (such as omnipresence, infinitude, and the like), might not the differences in their descriptions result from differing cultural lenses shaping or interpreting that experience and differing descriptive metaphors (sometimes reified in their understandings and taken as concrete), like the varying descriptions of the proverbial blind men feeling an elephant? The philosophies and mythologies built around the experience differ somewhat, yet with a common core (as described, for instance, in Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy).

In the West, the Ultimate has been experienced as personal. Yet the difference between the religious experience of East and West is not so stark as it may, on the surface, appear. Even in the East, most religionists have conceived of both an impersonal supernatural (such as the Tao or Brahman) and experienced a personal divine, usually understood to be one of a number of gods. (Rarely is one purely a Buddhist or Taoist. Rather, these broad religions are mixed with local devotion to personal deities.) And in the West, God, though experienced as a transcendent Person, is often, if not generally, also experienced in impersonal, immanent aspects, such as a pervasive force or presence--in Mormon parlance, the universal "light of Christ."

And this to me points out the strength of our position- we can unify humanism with theology- I have said before that when God is a man, humanism becomes theology- and we fit well with the Eastern traditions as well.

So, at minimum, religious ways of knowing have led to certain common or overlapping understandings. And this common core is actually quite substantial, as both Huxley's book and the more recent Oneness: Great Principles Shared by All Religions by Jeffrey Moses show. (An interesting exploration of the overlap and differences between Christianity and Buddhism, on the level of their respective metaphysics is John B. Cobb, Jr., Beyond Dialogue: Toward the Mutual Transformation of Christianity and Buddhism. And it's intriguing to note one religious founder, our very own Joseph Smith, answering the question "Wherein do Latter-day Saints differ from other denominations in their religious beliefs?" thus: "In reality and in essence we do not differ so far in our religious beliefs but can all drink into one principle of love.")

Absolutely!

Is there anything in the domain of religion that can be known beyond these "common findings" of religious inquirers from faiths spanning history and the globe? Do some religions and religionists perceive religious truth more deeply or sharply, or convey it more purely and clearly? Is progress possible in the search for religious truth?

I think the answers are almost certainly yes, yes, and yes. Just as some individuals are more adept in mathematics than others, some are more spiritually adept. These individuals lead the way via their spiritual perceptions better than do less spiritually perceptive persons. (Disciples are often only able to "get" to where their master has gotten because he discovered there was somewhere to "get" to in the first place.) So also different cultures have varied in their scientific, mathematical, philosophical, and moral attainments. Why not, then, in their spiritual attainments as well?

Progressive unfoldment of truth is common to all domains. The broad existing common core of religious truth took millennia to develop, and some of its principles are more jejune in some traditions and more mature in others.

Religion has progressed. It may thus continue to progress, and we would expect as much.

Perhaps as it does, as the principles of identifying and verifying religious truth become more clear, and as dialogue between faiths about their differences continues, we will be able to develop a broader and broader consensus in religion, as we have in science. Not that religion will ever be a science, or that it possibly can or reasonably ought to change into an objective material inquiry, rather than a subjective and intersubjective spiritual one, but the very real possibility is that religionists will tend to converge over time. Indeed, I believe this has been happening, on the whole, for quite some time. The proportion of the human population, in various cultures and faiths, that believes the Ultimate is unitary, is One, for example, appears to have been growing steadily for at least 3000 years.

Only where religious methods of inquiry have been rejected a priori (e.g., under Communism), or where agreement had been held together by force and is no longer (e.g., post-Reformation), has this trend toward agreement on the largest questions reversed itself, and even then, it appears, only temporarily.

Whether this assertion is strictly true or slightly hyperbolic, the progression and convergence of religion has been occurring and is worth exploring. This can fruitfully be done through Rodney Stark's Discovering God and Robert Wright's The Evolution of God. (And note also that Beyond Dialogue, referenced above, deals with the existing and, more ambitiously, prospective convergence of Christianity and Buddhism.)

Finally, on this point, the remarkable theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson briefly sketches a vision for the refinement and future progress of religion in his Infinite in All Directions. Dyson thinks religion, despite its antiquity, is yet in some ways only a nascent field. He doesn't accept any of our current faiths as being "the truth," but sees progress in this domain having been made and being made now, and expects it continue alongside that of science. (A current trend, by the way, with which Dyson's modest predictions appear to be consonant, is one in the direction of process or "openness" thought, a place where East and West meet, and theologians as diverse as Latter-day Saints, cutting-edge Evangelicals, and Catholics are meeting.) Where exactly things will go from here, who knows?

One thing is certain, despite the illusions of the Freudians, religion is with us to stay, and so long as it continues, it will continue to evolve.

Dang- I would love to argue with you, but I can't!! Right on the money!

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If it is a mistake to view divergent findings within a domain as necessarily posing an either-or, true-false dichotomy, might it not be a mistake of another order to do so with divergent findings between or across domains? Evolutionary scientists posit that our brains, including their moral instincts and logic circuits, evolved merely to help pass on our genes. This, on its own, would not tend to speak well of either logic or morality. Instincts toward selfishness, biased cognition, and violent anger also evolved to help us pass on our genes. The mere fact that something is useful toward that end does not make it a reliable tool for apprehending reality. From a strictly evolutionary (and biopsychological) scientific perspective, there is no basis to our moral "oughts," no normativity to them outside our subjective sense of them--which is a pure product of gene survival--and there is similarly nothing transcendent or normative about logic. Does it follow from the findings of evolutionary biology and brain science, then, there is no normative morality and no normative logic? If so, science, and this conclusion itself, are in trouble, since nothing "follows" from anything at all, nor can there be science, without normative logic; and we are all in trouble, or blessedly free, depending on how one looks at it, because nothing is really right or wrong. All is permitted: go thy way and "sin" on more.

Great pun!

I think it is possible to use the fact that life is the one categorical "good" to develop a more modern version of the categorical imperative which itself uses a pragmatic-utilitarian approach affirming life as it's own paradigm- much as the the "Two Ways" in the Didache distinguishes the path of life and the path of death. I find this paradigm much more useful than the Kantian one, and at once more modern and more ancient.

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The other major question I think needs to be asked to further explore yours is, "What are the proper subject matter and scope of each domain and its epistemic tools?" Despite the absolute necessity of distinctions between them, the domains can impinge on one another, as philosophy (in the form of symbolic logic) does upon mathematics and science does upon our judgments in history; and can be used by one another, as science makes pervasive use of the distinct and independent domain of mathematics, and morality may use Bentham's quantitative "hedonic calculus." And they can have legitimate boundary disputes, as when philosophy and cognitive science both dialogue and fight about the nature of consciousness.

I am not always sure these "boundary disputes" can be resolved, as perhaps was revealed in a conversation I had with John Williams where he was discussing the nature of semantic meaning from the pov of semiotics- specifically Saussure, and I was discussing it from a philosophical pov, specifically Wittgenstein, and we found that though we were often using the same terms, the meanings were totally different.

I think that it is important to realize that, like the Kantian synthetic a priori, there are areas of inquiry which we construct with different backgrounds and the "truths" are ultimately based on our own experiences and the community of discourse with which we are familiar as much as they are on what's "out there". Mathematics and symbolic logic are good examples- Russell showed that one could deduce mathematics from symbolic logic but it took and extensive amount of work to do so. Similarly, semiotics, linguistics and philosophy all have overlapping areas with quite different ways of seeing "reality" reflected in each. The reason these are hard to resolve is because each area of inquiry is constructed by practitioners of that area who indeed see the world differently, and at some point it just has to be acknowledged that the "world" is not just a unitary whole but in fact truth itself depends on who is making the observation and how he interprets the "data"

With this in mind, the alleged subjectivity of religion gets very blurry as a paradigm, and science and religion do not appear to be that far apart at all.

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Hi Don,

Excellent post against my better judgment it prompted me to write a response. I really have other things to do beside fighting on the internet :P. I have already spent far to long on this board this week. But your post directly addressed some longstanding issues I have been mulling over for some time and I would like to throw out my thoughts on them.

The religious mode of inquiry, the means of verification proposed by religions, has always been by their moral and experiential fruits and by mystical, or eponymously, "religious" experience.

First, religions have proliferated and do not all agree. Does this mean that the tests of religious truth don't work?

First your point concerning different modes of inquiry for different domains of knowledge is well taken the key issue is whether or not the religious mode of inquiry is a reliable means to determine how the universe really is. Does the means of verification proposed by you in which religions are selected on the basis of their moral, experiential and mystical fruits accurately and reliably identify that/those religion(s) whose doctrines correctly describe universal truths about how the universe really exists? I think you correctly identify what is in my view the most serious challenge the lack of reproducibility.

There are some really good compelling reasons why reproducibility is a core component in the practice of science. Take for example a scientist who has an unknown substance he wants to identify to do so he proposes using method X he uses method X and determines his substance is pure graphite. Now suppose he ships his substance to a different scientist who exactly duplicates method X but this time the results are different instead of graphite the results he gets are pure lead. The content of the unknown substance did not change indeed what the substance consists of is a universal truth it does not change depending on which scientist uses the method. The logic is clear and compelling if method X is a reliable means to identify the universal truth concerning the content of substance X than the method should agree regardless of which scientist uses the method assuming of course they used the method correctly. The content of the truth did not change my substance is the same hence the method used must be wrong at least once. Now lets extend this example suppose this substance was sent to 10 different scientists who also used exactly the same method 10 different times and got 10 different and contradictory results. We can confidently claim the method in fact fails more times than it succeeds when it comes to identifying the universal truth of what my substance consists of. This argument applies to any method secular or religious that claims to reliably identify universal truths.

The content of what the afterlife consists of is a universal truth similar to my unknown substance example. And yet many different religions have different and directly contradictory descriptions of what exactly the afterlife consists of. Do we engage in an endless cycle of reincarnation until Nirvana is reached? Or do we die once get resurrected in a glorified immortal body and get assigned a kingdom of glory? Only one of these can be true which is it and how are we to know? I certainly agree with you that there is a core of commonality in many different faiths. But there is also a core of contradiction ;) in many important and core beliefs religions directly contradict one another if this were not the case why pick Mormonism over Buddhism or Catholicism over Scientology? And given they do contradict one another and yet the religious way of "knowing" leads believers to firmly believe their particular faith correctly describes things like the afterlife the religious way of knowing is not a good or reliable means to identify which contradictory religious doctrine correctly describes how the universe really is.

The argument used above in support of reproducibility in science directly applies to reproducibility in religious ways of knowing. If many different people using your described religious way of knowing i.e. (moral, experiential and mystical fruits) arrive at directly contradictory conclusions about say what the afterlife consists of than assuming each person used the method correctly it must be the case the religious method of knowing fails more often than it gets it right at least with regards to the afterlife. And if you believe a given model of the afterlife on the basis of the religious way of knowing you are far more likely to be wrong than you are to be right. How can it be otherwise? If 10 people use method X and arrive at 10 different and contradictory conclusions at least 9 of them must be wrong hence most who use method X are wrong in their conclusions.

Now this is not to say the religious way of knowing might not be overall reliable on other matters. For example perhaps the religious way of knowing is a good way to correctly identify that whatever supernatural being is out there he/she wants us to love one another. Since the religious way of knowing leads to a consensus on this matter. But to me there is good reason as I have outlined above to strongly suspect when it comes to "fine-grained" supernatural truths the religious way of knowing is not reliable. If it was reliable all who correctly use the method should arrive at the same fine-grained supernatural truths they should not arrive at contradictory truths.

All the Best,

Uncertain

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Wade,

Thank you!

MFB,

Excellent thoughts. Do by chance know or know of Lincoln Cannon? He's a friend with a strong pragmatist bent who has influenced me in that direction. He's a very systematic and insightful thinker. I think some of his writings can be found on the website of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, of which he is president.

Uncertain,

Yes--you provide some great thoughts further in the direction of raising the problems and exploring possible limitations on what can be known through religious methods. Yet I sense that you are Uncertain.

Sorry! Bad joke! :P

I have to acknowledge that there are areas where unanimity and even near-unanimity in religion substantially breaks down, making it clear that either the fine supernatural details to which you refer can be are outside the purview of what those experiences can generally teach us or that the experiences are extremely difficult to accurately interpret. I think there may be ways of more rightly moving toward correct conclusions, but I am myself uncertain (small "u") on exactly how this all works. I hold to basic Latter-day Saint views on these things, for a variety of reasons I won't go into now. But I do recognize the problem you so well identify and describe.

I tend, however, to think, in line with the explorations of Stark and Wright and the hopeful vision of Freeman Dyson, and of the Bible and LDS scripture, that religion is progressive. And that, therefore, things are emerging that add to what has been historically known and that the future will see greater religious knowledge and clarity, and a greater move toward consonance among faiths.

Regarding your discussion of afterlife beliefs specifically, let me play heaven's advocate for a minute:

I think, actually, on the whole religions tend to agree that there is a "spirit" that survives death, even if their notion of where the spirit goes, and even of how individual it is, etc. varies. They do not agree on a resurrection, though historically a few faiths have believed in a resurrection without a spirit, and, of course, the major monotheistic faiths believe in a resurrection. One could infer from this that belief in an immortal spirit is more certain than the resurrection itself. But it may ultimately mean only that the truth that we have spirits now is more accessible than the truth of a future resurrection. Discovering, through transcendent experiences, that there is a transcendent part of oneself provides the basis for belief in spirits, whereas the discovery that there will be a resurrection would take something more.

Near-death experiences relate, of course, directly to the afterlife. They vary somewhat in content from group to group, showing what would appear to be straightforward cultural influences--e.g., people in India are more likely to report being sent back to this life due to a clerical error, perhaps a reflection of the quality of the Indian experience with bureaucracy! Yet there are substantial commonalities in the experience--a core near-death experience.

As I understand it, even people in groups that believe in no afterlife, no physical afterlife, or immediate reincarnation experience the same separation from their body, being bathed in light, moving toward a being of light--which perhaps ought to have implications for those beliefs!

How much we can know and how we can know it are great questions, and one's religion needs to progress in its understanding of.

Don

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Excellent thoughts. Do by chance know or know of Lincoln Cannon? He's a friend with a strong pragmatist bent who has influenced me in that direction. He's a very systematic and insightful thinker. I think some of his writings can be found on the website of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, of which he is president.

Thanks for the lead, I will check it out.

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I spent some time traveling in south and southeast asia during my college days at BYU (around 1997). I studied world religions within the International Studies department, in the building just south of the Lee Library. As part of our studies, we were required to visit sacred sights of the Jain, Islam, Hindu, Sikh, Christian, and Buddhist religions. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I will never forget it and will always consider it an enriching experience. While visiting these sites, we were required to interview people, sit and contemplate, and watch the goings on around us. I came away from this experience amazed at how devoted many of the people were and at the same time, how open many of them were to their neighbors who held totally different beliefs. I spent a whole day with a group of Muslims who took me out to eat at a restaurant, took me with them into the mosque, and then chatted with me at their house afterwards. The most interesting thing to me was how all these people were essentially just like me. They all had similar foundational desires and dreams for their future. Everyone I talked to was very kind, especially the Muslims.

Just yesterday, I got an email from my EQ Pres saying hateful things about Muslims because he found out I voted for Obama. I told him it doesn't matter what religion we are. What matters is how we treat others and ourselves... with respect and honesty. He told me I'm too nice and trusting of too many people without really knowing them.

I came away from my trip overseas with a feeling that all those people of other faiths are doing just fine in the faith they currently believe in. I wanted them to stay that way but hoped they would always strive to be open minded just as I often struggled to do. I came away from that experience with absolutely no desire for them to become Mormon because their differences (in faith and culture) makes the world more interesting. I have now come to believe that God (if he exists) loves diversity in belief and custom. He is probably fine with people who are passionate and experiment along with those who are careful and follow along. Most of all, I think God gave us each the ability to find truth that matters to us and will not punish for following a path that we have come to feel is right as an independent individual.

Don, from what you have said, I gather that you might agree that our search for truth is a personal road and we are not expected to follow something that we don't see as a fit for us as an individual. Did I get that right?

Thanks,

Zee.

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So to me the question becomes- what does one do to educate the fundamentalists into understanding the greater picture and greater experience which awaits them by learning and using some of these more flexible paradigms?

What brought about the transition in me was, even though I felt safe and secure in my black/white, absolutist, fundamentalist world view, I wasn't progressing much. In fact, I felt as though I was stagnating. I realized that if I was going to continue to grow, I needed to be mentally and emotionally and spiritually stretched. I needed to really put my faith and trust in God to the test, and take the risk that I could be wrong, believing that whatever the outcome, it would be for my good.

I hate to admit it, but there is a great metaphor for my experience found ia a scene of the Indiana Jones movie, The Last Crusade, where to save his father's life Indi needed to successfully navigate through several traps set to protect the Grail ("the final challenge"). The last trap is called the Great Abyss. The script for the movie describes it thus:

THE GREAT ABYSS

Indy stands in a small opening, just small enough for his

shoulders to squeeze through and beyond that a 100 foot drop

to the rocks below and 100 feet across, nothing but a rough,

stony cliff wall.

BACK TO INDY

He can see nowhere to cross. He looks again to the Grail

Diary.

INDY

"The path of flood. Only in the leap

from the lion's head will he prove

his worth."

Indy looks around and then he notices that inscribed into

the rock above his head is the head of a lion.

INDY

Impossible! Nobody can jump this!

Indy looks down into the Diary and tortures over what it is

asking him to do.

BRODY

Rushes forward and calls to Indy.

BRODY

Indy... Indy, you must hurry!! Come

quickly!

BACK TO INDY

INDY

(realizing)

It's... a leap of faith. Oh, God.

HENRY

Calls to his son.

HENRY

You must believe, boy. you must...

believe.

We see him do it. We see him leap into space. We see that he

is in midair. We see that he is not going to make it. His

hands claw for the opposite wall but he is going to fall 100

feet to his death. And then -- he doesn't! He appears to be

held up by thin air as he lands on his hands and knees.

Indy looks around and down and now he figures it out.

Ingeniously, the First Crusaders have painted a pathway to

align with the rocks 100 feet below. It is a perfect forced

perspective image of the rocks below with lines from a hundred

feet continuing six feet below his sight line where his feet

are stepping.

It's painted to blend in with the rocks below. Highly evolved

camouflage... in perfect alignment with everything we see

below.

When Indy leans out to the left or right... that's when he

sees the perfect alignment shift that betrays the trick.

Indy throws some dirt on the bridge and he crosses it like

the first Crusader from the painting over Henry's desk.

Indy crawls through a small opening in the side of the cliff

and enters a Temple.

Thanks, -Wade Englund-

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Zee,

I feel conflicted in answering your question. I believe very much in the kind of divine mercy and breadth you describe in your post (as I'll lay out below). Yet having just turned around from leaving the church, and noting the drastic difference between how things appeared to me then and what I perceive now, I feel very bad about the idea of someone else leaving.

I understand perfectly what you're saying about the beautiful diversity of cultures, including religious cultures, in our world. If the whole world suddenly became LDS tommorow, in some ways that would be amazing, and obviously facilitate the building of Zion, and so much more. Yet in other ways it would be a severe loss. No more Hassidic Jewish chanting, no more Muslim prostrations, no more Hindus chanting the names of God, religious cultures thousands of years old and with their own distinctive strengths vanishing.

As Latter-day Saints we are to share the revelations with everyone who will allow it, and urgently. Yet I don't think it's really in God's plan that everyone suddenly abandon all those faiths. I think His plan is much, much wider than that, wider and more intricate than we can imagine. (And I would certainly hope so; after all, He's God!)

I don't know if you ever had Roger Keller as a religion professor at BYU. But he taught this great class on World Religions, and I remember him saying of a certain student in the class, a Sikh, that he would like to be able to see him join the church and be able to bring Khalsa (the Sikh covenantal practices) with him. If LDS culture had evolved to a point where people could truly bring with them all the good they had, not just in the way of general beliefs and moral principles, but also of the practices taught in the sacred books they've received (and doesn't the Book of Mormon say God speaks to all nations?), then I think it would make more sense.

I believe God works with people of all faiths (and perhaps even with the faiths per se), and that He is not working only through the Latter-day Saints. I don't know if Gandhi ever heard anything really of the Book of Mormon and LDS teachings, but I do know he heard the Christian message, and still never became Christian. Yet is there a better example of a person putting Christlikeness into action in the public sphere? And what if Gandhi had become a Christian, or even specifically LDS, would the work he did have ever happened? That work depended on his solidarity with his people, include his being a sufficiently orthodox Hindu. I think God did intend that work to happen, and that He therefore intended for Gandhi to not become a Christian but remain a Hindu. So, again, I think God works through people of all faiths and that He may want certain people exactly where they are.

Regarding your question, my image of God isn't very punitive. I don't see Him waiting to condemn us, and especially not for sincere actions, even if they are mistakes. I can't believe that God points an accusing finger at those who honestly err. It's not what Christ, the revelation of God's character, would do.I think perhaps His justice largely consists in allowing natural consequences to occur, so that we learn.

I also believe that God works with us individually wherever we are, even outside any faith and far from believing in Him. He has done so with me.

He keeps track of His sheep.

I'm trying to sort out my thoughts as I write, but it's not coming together clearly.

I want to affirm the goodness of God and His respect for our agency and for where we are in our lives and understandings, and that He works with all people, especially all who are seeking Him, however and wherever they may do so. How can I not? That has been my experience. But that is not the whole of my experience. I left the church for uncommonly "good" reasons. And found that the path that seemed so clearly right was a serious mistake. It has been a winding, tortuous path on which I only gradually discovered what I'd given up. Not everyone who leaves the Church describes such a process, but I surely experienced it. And it wasn't necessary--unless it was necessary for me to learn in that very difficult way. So I want to help others see what I see now, and not just what I saw then. How can I not?

A long way, perhaps, to say that I'm not sure I'm answering your question. :P

My Best,

Don

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Zee,

I feel conflicted in answering your question. I believe very much in the kind of divine mercy and breadth you describe in your post (as I'll lay out below). Yet having just turned around from leaving the church, and noting the drastic difference between how things appeared to me then and what I perceive now, I feel very bad about the idea of someone else leaving.

I understand perfectly what you're saying about the beautiful diversity of cultures, including religious cultures, in our world. If the whole world suddenly became LDS tommorow, in some ways that would be amazing, and obviously facilitate the building of Zion, and so much more. Yet in other ways it would be a severe loss. No more Hassidic Jewish chanting, no more Muslim prostrations, no more Hindus chanting the names of God, religious cultures thousands of years old and with their own distinctive strengths vanishing.

As Latter-day Saints we are to share the revelations with everyone who will allow it, and urgently. Yet I don't think it's really in God's plan that everyone suddenly abandon all those faiths. I think His plan is much, much wider than that, wider and more intricate than we can imagine. (And I would certainly hope so; after all, He's God!)

I don't know if you ever had Roger Keller as a religion professor at BYU. But he taught this great class on World Religions, and I remember him saying of a certain student in the class, a Sikh, that he would like to be able to see him join the church and be able to bring Khalsa (the Sikh covenantal practices) with him. If LDS culture had evolved to a point where people could truly bring with them all the good they had, not just in the way of general beliefs and moral principles, but also of the practices taught in the sacred books they've received (and doesn't the Book of Mormon say God speaks to all nations?), then I think it would make more sense.

I believe God works with people of all faiths (and perhaps even with the faiths per se), and that He is not working only through the Latter-day Saints. I don't know if Gandhi ever heard anything really of the Book of Mormon and LDS teachings, but I do know he heard the Christian message, and still never became Christian. Yet is there a better example of a person putting Christlikeness into action in the public sphere? And what if Gandhi had become a Christian, or even specifically LDS, would the work he did have ever happened? That work depended on his solidarity with his people, include his being a sufficiently orthodox Hindu. I think God did intend that work to happen, and that He therefore intended for Gandhi to not become a Christian but remain a Hindu. So, again, I think God works through people of all faiths and that He may want certain people exactly where they are.

Regarding your question, my image of God isn't very punitive. I don't see Him waiting to condemn us, and especially not for sincere actions, even if they are mistakes. I can't believe that God points an accusing finger at those who honestly err. It's not what Christ, the revelation of God's character, would do.I think perhaps His justice largely consists in allowing natural consequences to occur, so that we learn.

I also believe that God works with us individually wherever we are, even outside any faith and far from believing in Him. He has done so with me.

He keeps track of His sheep.

I'm trying to sort out my thoughts as I write, but it's not coming together clearly.

I want to affirm the goodness of God and His respect for our agency and for where we are in our lives and understandings, and that He works with all people, especially all who are seeking Him, however and wherever they may do so. How can I not? That has been my experience. But that is not the whole of my experience. I left the church for uncommonly "good" reasons. And found that the path that seemed so clearly right was a serious mistake. It has been a winding, tortuous path on which I only gradually discovered what I'd given up. Not everyone who leaves the Church describes such a process, but I surely experienced it. And it wasn't necessary--unless it was necessary for me to learn in that very difficult way. So I want to help others see what I see now, and not just what I saw then. How can I not?

A long way, perhaps, to say that I'm not sure I'm answering your question. :P

My Best,

Don

I've been thinking something along these lines, but I have never been able to develop it to even 1% of this quality. Thanks.

Yours under the branching and rooting gospel oaks,

Nathair /|\

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Zee,

I feel conflicted in answering your question. I believe very much in the kind of divine mercy and breadth you describe in your post (as I'll lay out below). Yet having just turned around from leaving the church, and noting the drastic difference between how things appeared to me then and what I perceive now, I feel very bad about the idea of someone else leaving.

I understand perfectly what you're saying about the beautiful diversity of cultures, including religious cultures, in our world. If the whole world suddenly became LDS tommorow, in some ways that would be amazing, and obviously facilitate the building of Zion, and so much more. Yet in other ways it would be a severe loss. No more Hassidic Jewish chanting, no more Muslim prostrations, no more Hindus chanting the names of God, religious cultures thousands of years old and with their own distinctive strengths vanishing.

As Latter-day Saints we are to share the revelations with everyone who will allow it, and urgently. Yet I don't think it's really in God's plan that everyone suddenly abandon all those faiths. I think His plan is much, much wider than that, wider and more intricate than we can imagine. (And I would certainly hope so; after all, He's God!)

I don't know if you ever had Roger Keller as a religion professor at BYU. But he taught this great class on World Religions, and I remember him saying of a certain student in the class, a Sikh, that he would like to be able to see him join the church and be able to bring Khalsa (the Sikh covenantal practices) with him. If LDS culture had evolved to a point where people could truly bring with them all the good they had, not just in the way of general beliefs and moral principles, but also of the practices taught in the sacred books they've received (and doesn't the Book of Mormon say God speaks to all nations?), then I think it would make more sense.

I believe God works with people of all faiths (and perhaps even with the faiths per se), and that He is not working only through the Latter-day Saints. I don't know if Gandhi ever heard anything really of the Book of Mormon and LDS teachings, but I do know he heard the Christian message, and still never became Christian. Yet is there a better example of a person putting Christlikeness into action in the public sphere? And what if Gandhi had become a Christian, or even specifically LDS, would the work he did have ever happened? That work depended on his solidarity with his people, include his being a sufficiently orthodox Hindu. I think God did intend that work to happen, and that He therefore intended for Gandhi to not become a Christian but remain a Hindu. So, again, I think God works through people of all faiths and that He may want certain people exactly where they are.

Regarding your question, my image of God isn't very punitive. I don't see Him waiting to condemn us, and especially not for sincere actions, even if they are mistakes. I can't believe that God points an accusing finger at those who honestly err. It's not what Christ, the revelation of God's character, would do.I think perhaps His justice largely consists in allowing natural consequences to occur, so that we learn.

I also believe that God works with us individually wherever we are, even outside any faith and far from believing in Him. He has done so with me.

He keeps track of His sheep.

I'm trying to sort out my thoughts as I write, but it's not coming together clearly.

I want to affirm the goodness of God and His respect for our agency and for where we are in our lives and understandings, and that He works with all people, especially all who are seeking Him, however and wherever they may do so. How can I not? That has been my experience. But that is not the whole of my experience. I left the church for uncommonly "good" reasons. And found that the path that seemed so clearly right was a serious mistake. It has been a winding, tortuous path on which I only gradually discovered what I'd given up. Not everyone who leaves the Church describes such a process, but I surely experienced it. And it wasn't necessary--unless it was necessary for me to learn in that very difficult way. So I want to help others see what I see now, and not just what I saw then. How can I not?

A long way, perhaps, to say that I'm not sure I'm answering your question. :P

My Best,

Don

Don, I love this thread. I'm in full agreement with you 100% on the premises of this thread. And I love this post. You are a Prime Human Being.

Some time before my mission when Spirituality was very low in my life, my interest and pursuit for truth and knowledge in Eastern Religions, especially Buddhism, quickly led me right back to The Book of Mormon (though really it was as though I had read it for the first time). I was finally ready at that time in my life to receive a much larger dosage of truth concerning the restoration of the Lord's Church; it was enough for me to know that I needed to change tracks and prepare for a mission.

I have always retained a very deep love for Eastern Religions and have had them continually enrich my experience as a member of the Church. They give me an equilibrium that best enables me to keep learning in the LDS Faith because they help me to see through a lot of the member cultural assumptions in our faith that are dead left overs from a Christian World that developed after the death of the apostles with the appropriation of Greek Culture.

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When I go back to the temple, this is how I'm doing it too! :P

Don

I look forward to the day in the (hopefully) not too distant future when a group like mfbukowski, SilverKnight, sethpayne, Kevin Christensen, you and me could ALL go do a temple session together as a group. Before that day comes our group could always get together and talk about Pragmatism and Humanism over some toasted subs from Quizznos; I'll buy.

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Zee,

I feel conflicted in answering your question. I believe very much in the kind of divine mercy and breadth you describe in your post (as I'll lay out below). Yet having just turned around from leaving the church, and noting the drastic difference between how things appeared to me then and what I perceive now, I feel very bad about the idea of someone else leaving.

I understand perfectly what you're saying about the beautiful diversity of cultures, including religious cultures, in our world. If the whole world suddenly became LDS tommorow, in some ways that would be amazing, and obviously facilitate the building of Zion, and so much more. Yet in other ways it would be a severe loss. No more Hassidic Jewish chanting, no more Muslim prostrations, no more Hindus chanting the names of God, religious cultures thousands of years old and with their own distinctive strengths vanishing.

As Latter-day Saints we are to share the revelations with everyone who will allow it, and urgently. Yet I don't think it's really in God's plan that everyone suddenly abandon all those faiths. I think His plan is much, much wider than that, wider and more intricate than we can imagine. (And I would certainly hope so; after all, He's God!)

I don't know if you ever had Roger Keller as a religion professor at BYU. But he taught this great class on World Religions, and I remember him saying of a certain student in the class, a Sikh, that he would like to be able to see him join the church and be able to bring Khalsa (the Sikh covenantal practices) with him. If LDS culture had evolved to a point where people could truly bring with them all the good they had, not just in the way of general beliefs and moral principles, but also of the practices taught in the sacred books they've received (and doesn't the Book of Mormon say God speaks to all nations?), then I think it would make more sense.

I believe God works with people of all faiths (and perhaps even with the faiths per se), and that He is not working only through the Latter-day Saints. I don't know if Gandhi ever heard anything really of the Book of Mormon and LDS teachings, but I do know he heard the Christian message, and still never became Christian. Yet is there a better example of a person putting Christlikeness into action in the public sphere? And what if Gandhi had become a Christian, or even specifically LDS, would the work he did have ever happened? That work depended on his solidarity with his people, include his being a sufficiently orthodox Hindu. I think God did intend that work to happen, and that He therefore intended for Gandhi to not become a Christian but remain a Hindu. So, again, I think God works through people of all faiths and that He may want certain people exactly where they are.

Regarding your question, my image of God isn't very punitive. I don't see Him waiting to condemn us, and especially not for sincere actions, even if they are mistakes. I can't believe that God points an accusing finger at those who honestly err. It's not what Christ, the revelation of God's character, would do.I think perhaps His justice largely consists in allowing natural consequences to occur, so that we learn.

I also believe that God works with us individually wherever we are, even outside any faith and far from believing in Him. He has done so with me.

He keeps track of His sheep.

I'm trying to sort out my thoughts as I write, but it's not coming together clearly.

I want to affirm the goodness of God and His respect for our agency and for where we are in our lives and understandings, and that He works with all people, especially all who are seeking Him, however and wherever they may do so. How can I not? That has been my experience. But that is not the whole of my experience. I left the church for uncommonly "good" reasons. And found that the path that seemed so clearly right was a serious mistake. It has been a winding, tortuous path on which I only gradually discovered what I'd given up. Not everyone who leaves the Church describes such a process, but I surely experienced it. And it wasn't necessary--unless it was necessary for me to learn in that very difficult way. So I want to help others see what I see now, and not just what I saw then. How can I not?

A long way, perhaps, to say that I'm not sure I'm answering your question. ;)

My Best,

Don

What a GORGEOUS post! :P

DonBradley for President 2012!

A sincere pleasure to see your light, Don

Peace and God bless you,

Ceeboo

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I think this adds to the overall thrust of this thread.

Alfred North Whitehead Process and Reality

Philosophy frees itself from the taint of ineffectiveness by its close relations with religion and science, natural and sociological. It attains its chief importance by fusing the two, namely religion and science, into one rational scheme of thought. Religion should connect the rational generality of philosophy with the emotions and purposes springing out of existence in a particular society, in a particular epoch, and conditioned by particular antecedents. Religion is the translation of general ideas into particular thoughts, particular emotions, and particular purposes; it is directed to the end of stretching individual interest beyond its self-defeating particularity. Philosophy finds religion, and modifies it; and conversely religion is among the data of experience which philosophy must weave into its own scheme.

...Religion is centered upon the harmony of rational thought with the sensitive reaction to the percepta from which experience originates. Science is concerned with the harmony of rational thought with the percepta themselves.

...Science finds religious experiences among its percepta; and religion find scientific concepts among the conceptual experiences to be fused with particular sensitive reactions.

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Uncertain,

Yes--you provide some great thoughts further in the direction of raising the problems and exploring possible limitations on what can be known through religious methods. Yet I sense that you are Uncertain.

Sorry! Bad joke! :P

;)

I have to acknowledge that there are areas where unanimity and even near-unanimity in religion substantially breaks down, making it clear that either the fine supernatural details to which you refer can be are outside the purview of what those experiences can generally teach us or that the experiences are extremely difficult to accurately interpret.

Personally I don't see the difference between your option one and your option two. I can just picture all the LDS, Hindus, Catholics, Muslims etc. reading this thread sagely nodding their heads and thinking to themselves it's a good thing I am not like those other poor suckers who have incorrectly interpreted the positive fruits they experience by living their religion. My positive fruits of course mean my church is the one whose doctrines accurately reflect universal truths while all those other guys are just confused and misunderstood what God was trying to tell them. Good thing that's all cleared up :crazy: now time to go to mass, sacrament meeting, call to prayer etc.

I myself lean toward option one it just fits the data the best. For me this is excellence evidence God in fact does not have a "one true church" that everyone must convert to in order to gain heavenly rewards i.e(eternal families etc. ). As I have explained before when it comes to religion I am the ultimate pragmatist if it works for you go for it. And on that note I would like to congratulate you on your return to Mormonism I may doubt some of its theological claims but I have never doubted it is a wonderful organization that by and large produces great people. Sounds to me you have tried other paths and found them wanting and have returned to the faith of your fathers and been fulfilled. Frankly I think this is an excellent reason to join a church whether it is you returning to Mormonism or a Muslim returning to Islam. I do not believe for reasons I have already outlined it is a good reason to suppose a given churches teachings accurately describe how the world really is. But heck who cares? I am confident if God exists he will not punish or withhold blessings in any fashion if we sincerely get it wrong.

I tend, however, to think, in line with the explorations of Stark and Wright and the hopeful vision of Freeman Dyson, and of the Bible and LDS scripture, that religion is progressive. And that, therefore, things are emerging that add to what has been historically known and that the future will see greater religious knowledge and clarity, and a greater move toward consonance among faiths.

I would like to think so as well. But frankly if you truly believe Mormonism accurately describes universal truths then by progression you mean all other churches give up their beliefs that contradict Mormonism and accept the Mormon view. In other words I would not describe it as progression but as conversion to the one true way. Sure they can bring along any harmless cultural artifacts but any belief contradictory to the universal truth correctly described by Mormonism must be discarded. This is an unavoidable conclusion if you accept Mormonism accurately describes universal truths. "Progression of religion" is defined as all other churches coming to accept the correct LDS viewpoint.

Regarding your discussion of afterlife beliefs specifically, let me play heaven's advocate for a minute:

I think, actually, on the whole religions tend to agree that there is a "spirit" that survives death, even if their notion of where the spirit goes, and even of how individual it is, etc. varies. They do not agree on a resurrection, though historically a few faiths have believed in a resurrection without a spirit, and, of course, the major monotheistic faiths believe in a resurrection. One could infer from this that belief in an immortal spirit is more certain than the resurrection itself. But it may ultimately mean only that the truth that we have spirits now is more accessible than the truth of a future resurrection. Discovering, through transcendent experiences, that there is a transcendent part of oneself provides the basis for belief in spirits, whereas the discovery that there will be a resurrection would take something more.

Near-death experiences relate, of course, directly to the afterlife. They vary somewhat in content from group to group, showing what would appear to be straightforward cultural influences--e.g., people in India are more likely to report being sent back to this life due to a clerical error, perhaps a reflection of the quality of the Indian experience with bureaucracy! Yet there are substantial commonalities in the experience--a core near-death experience.

As I understand it, even people in groups that believe in no afterlife, no physical afterlife, or immediate reincarnation experience the same separation from their body, being bathed in light, moving toward a being of light--which perhaps ought to have implications for those beliefs!

How much we can know and how we can know it are great questions, and one's religion needs to progress in its understanding of.

Well I certainly view beliefs that are a consensus or near consensus among religions as more likely true than isolated ones.

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Don!

I'm excited to have this discussion. Due to unfortunate time constraints, I'll have to drop my other thread temporarily in order to produce a proper response. While you were probably typing this interesting response, I was left with the responsibility of keeping the family's house prepared for the market, and have now been moved to a friend's house for the week. As consequence, the amount of time I can indulge has been reduced, but I will still try my best. Sorry to those who wished to discuss my last thread, in due time.

Yes, they overlap, and the places of overlap are probably the most interesting and difficult. But what do we do in more "pure" cases?

We apply critical thinking to the best and worst of the differing methods proposed for each "pure" case.

Why would we not have a distinct epistemology, or distinctive primary epistemological tools, for religious claims--just as we have different epistemological tools for philosophy, history, science, morality, and mathematics, respectively?

Alternative epistemological methods are integral to the sorts of metaphysical theorizing that occurs within the domains of religion. If I hadn't accepted that many people believe we need alternative epistemology, and they must be evaluated, then I wouldn't be here. I recognize that many reasons exist to attempt to discover what is behind this, but a successful attempt in favor of religion has not been brought to my attention. My original thread, once thoroughly discussed, was to be followed by a discussion of why I believe these alternative epistemological methods do not pass evaluation, especially when they overlap with separate established domains. I can unpack, in part, that thread as a response here. I'll be rearranging your post a bit. You've covered quite a few topics. I'm just posting to let you know I'm working on it.

So, to refuse, at the outset, a distinct religious epistemology for the domain of religion is simply to not take religion seriously on its own terms, rejecting it as a domain from the outsiet, like refusing to acknowledge a distinct domain of moral truth, or philosophical truth, or mathematical truth, etc., but insisting on using only tools and presumptions from the other domains. You can never get to the truths of the missing domain by such a route. You cannot derive an "ought" from an "is," cannot even derive the idea of moral obligation outside of the use of a distinct moral sense or moral intuition. Nor can you arrive at syllogisms or systematic thought about concepts, much less to "The Phaedo," "I think therefore I am," or "The Critique of Pure Reason" without admitting the use of philosophy's primary tool of deductive logic. And so on.

One certainly can block out any of these domains of human experience and inquiry a priori. But it scarcely seems productive or wise to do so.

I've rejected any epistemological method or domain a priori because there are good a posteriori reasons to question many of them, based on their claims. To "take religion seriously on its own terms" will especially justify an a priori rejection of some groups of alternatives, if warranted, without having to labor over experiencing each alternative. Such an endeavor would be absurd in scope, as you may agree.

I believe it is productive and wise to attempt to recognize possible flaws which may show alternatives to be unreliable. It is also wise to discover whether or not rejecting a religious domain is, in fact, "like refusing to acknowledge a distinct domain of moral truth, or philosophical truth, or mathematical truth, etc." Obvious points of disagreement they may be, I recognize the great mistake I will have made if there are no good reasons to reject them. Much to talk about. Thanks again. I'm looking forward to the rest of our discussion.

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Alfred North Whitehead Process and Reality

...Religion is centered upon the harmony of rational thought with the sensitive reaction to the percepta from which experience originates. Science is concerned with the harmony of rational thought with the percepta themselves.

I don't know what 'percepta' means, but is Science *able* to work with the "percepta themselves"? From my understanding of the previous sentences, I would think not.

Help me out, you philosophic types!

HiJolly

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When I go back to the temple, this is how I'm doing it too! :P

After crossing the Great Abyss, you will be prepared to enter the temple in whatever way you see best. Just don't be surprised if the "chalice" you seek isn't made of gold or silver, but of earthenware fit for a carpentar. ;)

Thanks, -Wade Englund-

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