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Is there room in the church for doubt?


Libs

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I haven't really been paying attention to the "Mormon Scholar Testimonies" up at the top of the forum, but tonight I went in and read Boyd Petersen's testimony. His testimony interests me, because he is not one who says he "knows" anything about the church or God, but rather "believes" (deeply, I think) that it is true.

He also discusses his, sometimes, discomfort with the conservative politics of the church, and other conservative and less than tolerant attitudes. I was surprised to read that...pleasantly surprised, because I can relate, and it did make me want to know more about this man.

I clicked on the link at the bottom that led to an article he wrote, which poses the question, "Do secular religion classes destroy faith?" He was asking that question, because so many of his students, who had a deep interest in religious studies, were leaving the church. He wanted to know why, so he started interviewing students.

From the article:

ONE OF THE most important things I discovered in

these interviews, however, caused me concern, and

led me to rethink Mormonism

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I haven't really been paying attention to the "Mormon Scholar Testimonies" up at the top of the forum, but tonight I went in and read Boyd Petersen's testimony. His testimony interests me, because he is not one who says he "knows" anything about the church or God, but rather "believes" (deeply, I think) that it is true.

He also discusses his, sometimes, discomfort with the conservative politics of the church, and other conservative and less than tolerant attitudes.

I applaud Boyd Petersen's candor on this subject. When growing up in the Church, I was taught to say that I "knew" the Church was true when bearing my testimony. I never questioned this. It is what my parents and teachers taught and it was fine with me, as a child.

As a teenager I became uncomfortable with the obligatory "I know" language of a testimony. By the time I was 30, I considered the bearing of testimony with the "I know" language as a not so subtle form of lying. I knew in some detail how many of the members who stated that they "knew" the gospel was true really felt about the Church. More importantly, I knew a lot of things about the Church that many of these "knowers" did not. They stood up in Church and claimed to "know" something without bothering to learn enough factual information about what they claimed they "knew" to ever make such a statement.

In a 2007 article in the New Era, Boyd K. Packer instructed Mormons to bear their testimony, even if they felt that they really did not have one. He stated that, "a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!"

To any critical thinking person reading this statement, the message is clear. What BKP is saying is that one should lie about their worldview until this lie becomes "the truth" to them (and eventually to others as well). Being a little kinder, this could be considered a set of instructions on creating and promulgating a meme.

F&T meeting became one of the most difficult meetings for me to attend. It was profoundly uncomfortable to sit there and see people I knew well go through the motions of telling others they "knew" something when, in fact, they chose to remain willfully ignorant of what they claimed to know.

Again, I applaud Bro. Petersen's honesty here.

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I applaud Boyd Petersen's candor on this subject. When growing up in the Church, I was taught to say that I "knew" the Church was true when bearing my testimony. I never questioned this. It is what my parents and teachers taught and it was fine with me, as a child.

As a teenager I became uncomfortable with the obligatory "I know" language of a testimony. By the time I was 30, I considered the bearing of testimony with the "I know" language as a not so subtle form of lying. I knew in some detail how many of the members who stated that they "knew" the gospel was true really felt about the Church. More importantly, I knew a lot of things about the Church that many of these "knowers" did not. They stood up in Church and claimed to "know" something without bothering to learn enough factual information about what they claimed they "knew" to ever make such a statement.

In a 2007 article in the New Era, Boyd K. Packer instructed Mormons to bear their testimony, even if they felt that they really did not have one. He stated that, "a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!"

To any critical thinking person reading this statement, the message is clear. What BKP is saying is that one should lie about their worldview until this lie becomes "the truth" to them (and eventually to others as well). Being a little kinder, this could be considered a set of instructions on creating and promulgating a meme.

F&T meeting became one of the most difficult meetings for me to attend. It was profoundly uncomfortable to sit there and see people I knew well go through the motions of telling others they "knew" something when, in fact, they chose to remain willfully ignorant of what they claimed to know.

Again, I applaud Bro. Petersen's honesty here.

I don't think that you understand what a testimony is. I can stand up and bear a testimony that I know that God lives, that Jesus Christ is my Savior, that Joseph Smith was a prophet and not be lying. I cannot bear a testimony as to how the earth was made, how old it is, or whether the big band theory is correct.

Glenn

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so many of his students, who had a deep interest in religious studies, were leaving the church.

It seems to be a fairly common phenomenon that a deep interest in any subject, noble or not, can overtake one's priorities and uproot them from a spiritual grounding. When the intellect is stimulated and exercised and humility, faith, hope, and charity are not, spirituality will certainly have to give way. The needs of the spirit are easily ignored in favor of those that are more readily accessed.

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I don't think that you understand what a testimony is. I can stand up and bear a testimony that I know that God lives, that Jesus Christ is my Savior, that Joseph Smith was a prophet and not be lying. I cannot bear a testimony as to how the earth was made, how old it is, or whether the big band theory is correct.

Glenn

I understand perfectly well what a testimony should be, should not be, and often is in the LDS Church. Perhaps you do not understand that the best objective and fact based explanation for the phenomenon of a belief in God or Jesus Christ is that such beliefs arise from certain conditioned neuronal firing patterns in the brain, and to some extent depend on the existence or size of certain small structures in the brain.

Since this hypothesis can explain belief in the hundreds or thousands of various gods that humankind has worshipped over its history, including a primate God with a number of unusual human characteristics, it must be selected as the best hypothesis as opposed to the unfalsifiable hypothesis that the Mormon God actually exists.

Certainly all you can truthfully say in terms of testimony is what Bro. Petersen says, and that is that he believes deeply that God and Jesus Christ exist. Bro. Petersen deserves some credit for that small but important bit of restraint.

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I have had friends who suffered from depression and they have also related how difficult it is sometimes to feel the spirit, especially if they are on certain types of medication which seem to dull emotional experiences.

I have no experience with it myself but it made sense that feeling the spirit could be hampered by such mental diseases under certain circumstances.

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I have had friends who suffered from depression and they have also related how difficult it is sometimes to feel the spirit, especially if they are on certain types of medication which seem to dull emotional experiences.

I have no experience with it myself but it made sense that feeling the spirit could be hampered by such mental diseases under certain circumstances.

So, what you are saying is that belief in God and Jesus Christ can be materially affected by the physiological state of the brain.

The vast majority of scientists, especially those in the neurosciences, would agree.

Does this not tell you something about the subjective and highly labile nature of belief in things for which there is no physical evidence?

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belief in God and Jesus Christ can be materially affected by the physiological state of the brain.

the subjective and highly labile nature of belief in things for which there is no physical evidence

The physiological state of the brain can also be influenced by belief of any kind.

Belief and knowledge are subjective regardless of their purported bases.

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Libs, thanks for the post. As you know, you're not alone in feeling like doubt has little place in Church meetings, testimony meetings, etc. I've written elsewhere that Mormons typically place heavy emphasis on the importance of a testimony which is based on personal metaphysical experiences with God, coupled with the testimony of others. So statements directly challenging beliefs can feel threatening and personal. In a culture stressing the importance of "knowing," doubt may easily be seen as an aberration; perhaps something to avoid, fear, or reprimand. From another perspective doubt is the arbiter of an open mind, freedom, and wisdom. In LDS devotional history there are some great prototypes for doubt, most notably in Joseph Smith's uncertainty in searching for forgiveness and the true religion of God (resulting in the first vision) or his later prayer in Liberty Jail asking where God had gone (resulting again in revelation). While such stories set an example, hindsight bias reveals their happy ending, while the uncertainty in experiencing current personal doubt can be a tremendous obstacle. I wrote a blog post on the topic which you might like: "Is Doubt a Sin?"

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So, what you are saying is that belief in God and Jesus Christ can be materially affected by the physiological state of the brain.

No, what i'm saying is that there are instances where it is more difficult to feel the spirit than others.

And that when someone has trouble feeling the spirit, it is difficult to believe in God because those impressions and revelations are what a belief in God must be based on.

The vast majority of scientists, especially those in the neurosciences, would agree.

I doubt that the vast majority of scientists would agree with what i was actually saying.

Does this not tell you something about the subjective and highly labile nature of belief in things for which there is no physical evidence?

Things that are subjective will always have a certain aspect that is highly liable. It does not mean that they are not real though.

Love, for example, is a subjective experience that is easy to interpret wrong. You won't get many scientists though who will argue that there is no reason to believe in love or that the subjective aspect of love is evidence that it does not exist at all.

This is because most scientists have personal experiences with love and would not be willing to discount those experiences, regardless of the fact that they are not objective or measurable.

It is interesting that some scientists who would not be willing to say that love does not exist, or who would never dream of trying to force themselves or others to admit that they only believe love exists but do not know because of the subjective nature of the experience, want other people to do just that when it comes to spiritual experiences.

In the end, it seems that some people truly are egotistical enough to believe that if something doesn't happen to them, then it can't happen to anyone.

Thankfully, i don't think there are too many scientists, or people in general, who have such a small world view.

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I've never sensed that expression of doubt directly results loss of good standing unless such expression is so pervasive as to appear to affect the faith of others or disturb the functioning of the unit/organization to which one belongs. One must be trying or at least desire to believe to remain in good standing. Inactivity is likely to result in failure to qualify for a TR or advancement in the priesthood.

He also discusses his, sometimes, discomfort with the conservative politics of the church, and other conservative and less than tolerant attitudes. I was surprised to read that...pleasantly surprised, because I can relate, and it did make me want to know more about this man.

It is what it is. However, there is no intolernace in the Church of that which is good. So why complain about intolerence for that which is evil Again, it all comes down to a desire to believe.

I wrote a blog post on the topic which you might like: "Is Doubt a Sin?"

According to the scriptures, unbelief is a sin.

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In the end, it seems that some people truly are egotistical enough to believe that if something doesn't happen to them, then it can't happen to anyone.

Thankfully, i don't think there are too many scientists, or people in general, who have such a small world view.

Egotistical? Really?

Is it not egotistical to claim that you have a special relationship with THE all knowing all powerful creator of the Universe?

Is it not egotistical to claim that of all the tens of thousands of Gods worshiped on this planet, the Mormons are the only ones that have it just right?

Is it not egotistacal to claim that after you die, after your body decomposes to dust, you life was so special that you will be resurrected and will live forever in the celestial kingdom, being served by those of us who doubted?

I am guessing that you don't believe its egotistical, because you know it to be true. Fascinating how that works.

BTW, I think his point was not that IT can't happen, but rather that ITS not the "best explanation" for what is actually happening.

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No, what i'm saying is that there are instances where it is more difficult to feel the spirit than others.

And that when someone has trouble feeling the spirit, it is difficult to believe in God because those impressions and revelations are what a belief in God must be based on.

I doubt that the vast majority of scientists would agree with what i was actually saying.

Things that are subjective will always have a certain aspect that is highly liable. It does not mean that they are not real though.

Love, for example, is a subjective experience that is easy to interpret wrong. You won't get many scientists though who will argue that there is no reason to believe in love or that the subjective aspect of love is evidence that it does not exist at all.

This is because most scientists have personal experiences with love and would not be willing to discount those experiences, regardless of the fact that they are not objective or measurable.

It is interesting that some scientists who would not be willing to say that love does not exist, or who would never dream of trying to force themselves or others to admit that they only believe love exists but do not know because of the subjective nature of the experience, want other people to do just that when it comes to spiritual experiences.

In the end, it seems that some people truly are egotistical enough to believe that if something doesn't happen to them, then it can't happen to anyone.

Thankfully, i don't think there are too many scientists, or people in general, who have such a small world view.

It seems to me there are some pretty relevant and significant differences between the nature of the love-experience and the nature of mystical experience. Bob who experiences what you call the subjective experience of love for Claire does not claim from that experience to know, say, that Milly stands in the love relation to Walter, or that, say, Fred is going to divorce Evelyn. What I'm saying is that people who experience love claim to know that they, themselves, (the person making the confession of love) love somebody else. They don't claim to know that anything else about the world is or is not the case. A person claiming to know they're in love because they feel in love is making an claim much like a personal aesthetic claim

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As a teenager I became uncomfortable with the obligatory "I know" language of a testimony. By the time I was 30, I considered the bearing of testimony with the "I know" language as a not so subtle form of lying. I knew in some detail how many of the members who stated that they "knew" the gospel was true really felt about the Church. More importantly, I knew a lot of things about the Church that many of these "knowers" did not. They stood up in Church and claimed to "know" something without bothering to learn enough factual information about what they claimed they "knew" to ever make such a statement.

If you didn't "know," then yes, it would be problematic to claim otherwise and would certainly lead to discomfort. It seems like you turned that discomfort into an avenue to judge other people and their statements of faith.

In a 2007 article in the New Era, Boyd K. Packer instructed Mormons to bear their testimony, even if they felt that they really did not have one. He stated that, "a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!"

To any critical thinking person reading this statement, the message is clear. What BKP is saying is that one should lie about their worldview until this lie becomes "the truth" to them (and eventually to others as well). Being a little kinder, this could be considered a set of instructions on creating and promulgating a meme.

"Meme" is a trend term from some of the new atheists. I'm not convinced at all that it holds up well to sociological scrutiny. Studies in linguistics as well as evolutionary psychology have not seen much merit in this concept. In fact, it's been called "pseudo-science" by some, interestingly enough. It might take a little "magical thinking" to buy into the idea.

F&T meeting became one of the most difficult meetings for me to attend. It was profoundly uncomfortable to sit there and see people I knew well go through the motions of telling others they "knew" something when, in fact, they chose to remain willfully ignorant of what they claimed to know.

Sometimes I'm uncomfortable in F&T meeting too. Other times I am bored, and other times I am profoundly moved. All of this can happen in the very same meeting, incidentally. I can only hope that when I bear my testimony, which might not sound exactly like the "norm" you describe, that there aren't so many folks in the congregation ready to judge my inner thoughts, efforts, or sincerity so harshly.

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I don't think that you understand what a testimony is. I can stand up and bear a testimony that I know that God lives, that Jesus Christ is my Savior, that Joseph Smith was a prophet and not be lying. I cannot bear a testimony as to how the earth was made, how old it is, or whether the big band theory is correct.

Glenn

The big band theory, which promoting a swinging sound from the 1930s through the 40s, had a brief resurgence in the late 90s with bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Brian Setzer Orchestra. It's again fallen on hard times and appeals only to enthusiasts once again.

:P;):crazy:

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I highly recommend reading Boyd Petersen's testimony, not to prove anything, but just because it was interesting.

All in all, I'd have to say that it is very Protestant in that it leads to atheism. It tries to embrace unbelief as consistent with the gospel.

It would be refreshing if as a culture we began to understand that there are legitimate reasons for people to have doubts

It is legitmate to have doubts, but if the Church is true, ultimately the doubts themselves are not legitimate. And that is why Boyd's view leads to atheism. There is no reason to believe the Church, or any other church using this logic.

and that doubts do not necessarily originate in some hidden sin

It doesn't have to be fornication or anything like that, but I'd that to say that all the reasons given for doubt are rooted in one sin or another. Everything that leads away from belief is sin.

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I understand perfectly well what a testimony should be, should not be, and often is in the LDS Church. Perhaps you do not understand that the best objective and fact based explanation for the phenomenon of a belief in God or Jesus Christ is that such beliefs arise from certain conditioned neuronal firing patterns in the brain, and to some extent depend on the existence or size of certain small structures in the brain.

I'm familiar with such reductionist arguments. This is like summing up the human experience of "love" or "friendship" (currently understood) as merely consisting a series of chemical firings in the brain and concluding that the explanation is complete.

Certainly all you can truthfully say in terms of testimony is what Bro. Petersen says, and that is that he believes deeply that God and Jesus Christ exist. Bro. Petersen deserves some credit for that small but important bit of restraint.

With all due respect, and I really like Peterson's testimony too, given your skeptical bent towards religion, wouldn't it be appropriate to turn that skepticism back on yourself a bit? You claim to know what a person can and cannot "truthfully" say. That steps beyond the "best objective and fact based" standard you set forth above.

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I have long realized that this is one of the biggest problems with the church. Actually, it is not a problem for the church as an entity since it helps member retention and helps with missionary efforts etc.

Let me call it as I see it:

People say they know things or are sure of things which they are not. Is it any surprise that they do this when they are encouraged from a very young age to do just that in front of people? [This sets a moral precident in the mind] They practice saying they know this and that from around the age of 6 or 7 in many cases. The social pressure to have a testimony is also huge--this can hardly be overstated. Missionaries are encouraged to find a testimony in its bearing and Boyd K. Packer seems to be telling us to essentially fake it until we get a testimony. I was told similar things on my mission and of course at 5 or 6 years old I started publically saying that I knew Joseph Smith was a prophet. How could I not be telling the truth, I was saying it under the most righteous of circumstances with the encouragement of my perfect parents and church leaders. I felt I did know it on one level but at a deeper level I knew better and as a teen I began to consciously realize there was a gap.

When a person says they know something about the truthfulness of the church that they do not, do they realize it? Well only on some level. Does the 7 year old who says he knows the church is true in FTM realize he or she is saying that they know something that they do not know? Only at some deeper level do they realize it and so it is with adults who have had a half of a lifetime to selectively collect supportive personal anectdotes to mentally rehearse and console themselves with and a half of a lifetime to identify instances of special inner feelings that could be plausible candidates for a spiritual witness (a notion that hardly makes epistemic sense in the first place).

Once the slightest feeling is found, the youthful training kicks in and suddenly we hear a great emotional conviction expressed publically using inauthentic words obviously piked up in the culture.

This is all quite undeniable in my opinion and can be observed in hundreds of wards, branches and stakes across the globe. It is a cultural fact and has been for at least my whole life and certainly longer. But it is a key of success for the church itself.

All of this should be considered in light of the fact that the testimony is some undefinable inner something that people inwardly grope for until they think they have come across just the right feeling. This latter situation is very similar-I am sorry to say--to the situation where psychologists use guided imagery and hypnosis to help patients recover lost memories which often turn out to be false memories.

The whole testimony thing looks to me to be one giant self sustaining bubble--an emperor's new clothes kind of situation.

Of course, this psychosocial situation can only get stronger in true Darwinian fashion since it serves the survival and growth of the church which has so definitely adopted it.

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No, what i'm saying is that there are instances where it is more difficult to feel the spirit than others.

And that when someone has trouble feeling the spirit, it is difficult to believe in God because those impressions and revelations are what a belief in God must be based on.

I doubt that the vast majority of scientists would agree with what i was actually saying.

Things that are subjective will always have a certain aspect that is highly liable. It does not mean that they are not real though.

Love, for example, is a subjective experience that is easy to interpret wrong. You won't get many scientists though who will argue that there is no reason to believe in love or that the subjective aspect of love is evidence that it does not exist at all.

This is because most scientists have personal experiences with love and would not be willing to discount those experiences, regardless of the fact that they are not objective or measurable.

It is interesting that some scientists who would not be willing to say that love does not exist, or who would never dream of trying to force themselves or others to admit that they only believe love exists but do not know because of the subjective nature of the experience, want other people to do just that when it comes to spiritual experiences.

In the end, it seems that some people truly are egotistical enough to believe that if something doesn't happen to them, then it can't happen to anyone.

Thankfully, i don't think there are too many scientists, or people in general, who have such a small world view.

As I understand it, you are claiming that feelings such as love are "real". So we agree that there are such things as subjective feelings, which all humans experience and which can be interpreted in various ways. This says nothing however about the external reality that is the object of the belief. A child's sincere belief in Santa Claus does not mean that the Santa Claus in which the child has been taught to believe actually exists in the real world.

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Is it not egotistical to claim that you have a special relationship with THE all knowing all powerful creator of the Universe?

Not if in the same breath i claim that every other person who has ever lived or will ever live can have the exact same relationship with him that i do.

Is it not egotistical to claim that of all the tens of thousands of Gods worshiped on this planet, the Mormons are the only ones that have it just right?

Not if it's true.

That's like saying that it's egotisical to claim that america's space program was the most advanced in 1969.

Now, if i thought that my membership in the mormon church made me better than everyone else, more spiritual, more logical-whatever-THAT would be egotistical.

Is it not egotistacal to claim that after you die, after your body decomposes to dust, you life was so special that you will be resurrected and will live forever in the celestial kingdom, being served by those of us who doubted?

LDS doctrine does NOT teach that in the least.

LDS doctrine does NOT teach that it's my specialness-or anything that i personally do-that will gain me any of those blessings? Those are based completely on the merits of God and they are blessings that everyone has equal opportunity to claim.

That is obviously the opposite of an egotistical belief.

I am guessing that you don't believe its egotistical, because you know it to be true. Fascinating how that works.

I have given reasons besides 'i know it's true' to support my arguments. Your only argument seems to be 'i know it's not true' though. You are right, that IS fascinating. :P

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