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Thoughts on Addressing a Struggle with, or Loss of, Faith


smac97

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1 hour ago, Meadowchik said:
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I do not believe that authoritarian spirituality is good.

I'm not sure what "authoritarian spirituality" means.

Why don't you, isn't it clear?

Well, no.  Simply pushing a modifier against a noun doesn't always yield a self-evidently clear result.

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"Authoritarian" has clear meaning, and the only qualifier is the context, spirituality.

Authoritarian

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1. favoring complete obedience or subjection to authority as opposed to individual freedom:authoritarian principles; authoritarian attitudes.

2. of or relating to a governmental or political system, principle, or practice in which individual freedom is held as completely subordinate to the power or authority of the state, centered either in one person or a small group that is not constitutionally accountable to the people.

3. exercising complete or almost complete control over the will of another or of others: an authoritarian parent.

Spirituality:

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1. the quality or fact of being spiritual.

2. incorporeal or immaterial nature.

3. predominantly spiritual character as shown in thought, life, etc.; spiritual tendency or tone.

Who is the "authority" in this (definition #1 for "authoritarian")?  

Are you suggesting that we should obey God (who is a legitimate "authority"), but not prophets (who, in your view, are not legitimate)?  If so, what mechanism do you use to discern commandments from God (since prophetic writings - the scriptures - are presumably not legitimate)?

Or do you utterly reject the notion of obedience to God in any sense, such that there is no "atonement made for the sins of men," and that "every man fare{s} in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prosper{s} according to his genius, and that every man conquer{s} according to his strength; and whatsoever a man {does is} no crime?"  (Alma 30:17.)

Are you saying obedience to God's commandments is not "good?"

Are you saying the Church's leaders seek to exercise "complete or almost complete control over the will of" the members (definition #3 for "authoritarian")?

The scriptures are replete with exhortations and commandments to obey God.  And yet the scriptures also have much to say about agency, the ability and right to choose.  Individual autonomy.  These principles are best encapsulated in 2 Nephi 2:27 - "Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself."

So no, I don't understand what you mean by "authoritarian spirituality."

Thanks,

-Smac

Edited by smac97
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1 hour ago, smac97 said:

Well, no.  Simply pushing a modifier against a noun doesn't always yield a self-evidently clear result.

Authoritarian

Spirituality:

Epistemologically speaking, I think it's clear. Human beings have many techniques for "knowing" things: logic, tradition, science, religion, etc... An authoritarian spirituality, then, is "knowing" something because a person says "I said so." Knowing something because a person says "I say so because God told me so" is a variation of that.

1 hour ago, smac97 said:

Who is the "authority" in this (definition #1 for "authoritarian")?  

Are you suggesting that we should obey God (who is a legitimate "authority"), but not prophets (who, in your view, are not legitimate)?  If so, what mechanism do you use to discern commandments from God (since prophetic writings - the scriptures - are presumably not legitimate)?

The "authority" is other people who claim to represent God. We are talking about my reasons for rejecting religious authority. I would propose that there are many alternatives to authoritarian spirituality. I'm sure you don't rely on it exclusively. I am saying that I reject the reliance on it at all, and I use other methods I already used with it, but now without it.

1 hour ago, smac97 said:

Or do you utterly reject the notion of obedience to God in any sense, such that there is no "atonement made for the sins of men," and that "every man fare{s} in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prosper{s} according to his genius, and that every man conquer{s} according to his strength; and whatsoever a man {does is} no crime?"  (Alma 30:17.)

That looks like an artificial binary to me.  One might reject God or reject those who claim to represent God without adopting the philosophy where "and that "every man fare{s} in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prosper{s} according to his genius, and that every man conquer{s} according to his strength; and whatsoever a man {does is} no crime."

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Are you saying obedience to God's commandments is not "good?"

I am saying that obeying the words a person says because they say the words come from God and that they represent God is not good. Such obedience can have no relationship whatsoever with God or with goodness. Such obedience can actually be a betrayal of God and/or a betrayal of goodness.

 

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Are you saying the Church's leaders seek to exercise "complete or almost complete control over the will of" the members (definition #3 for "authoritarian")?

I am saying that the church effectively expects obedience to leaders words based on the claim that they represent God. The caveat that we are to seek confirmation for ourselves is not at all assuring based on the way the church works.

 

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

The scriptures are replete with exhortations and commandments to obey God.  And yet the scriptures also have much to say about agency, the ability and right to choose.  Individual autonomy.  These principles are best encapsulated in 2 Nephi 2:27 - "Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself."

Well, yes, sure. The Bible, the other LDS scriptures and teachings say lots and lots of things, many insisting on autonomy but also many insisting on obedience, on following prophets. Yet I find that I have much more peace and clarity without having the confusion of an institution and its leaders trying to tell me what is good. No longer do I experience the dilemma of wrestling a question because my understanding of what if righteous diverges from what the church says is righteous. I am glad that I can focus on what is good directly without those distractions.

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34 minutes ago, smac97 said:

But you seem to be attributing that to the Latter-day Saints.  And the Latter-day Saints don't subscribe to "{because} I said so"-based "authoritarian spirituality."

I do not submit myself to the authority of Pres. Nelson because of his say-so.  I submit to him because I have received what I believe to be personal revelation from God pertaining to Restored Gospel.

So authoritarianism doesn't really have much of a role to play here.  Observant members of the Church are observant by choice, not by compulsory obedience to authority.

Again, you are attributing things to the Latter-day Saints which are not so.  You seem to be utterly disregarding the role of personal revelation.

I think there is still quite a bit left unclear about what you mean by "authoritarian spirituality," particularly when you attribute it to us, and when we reject such a characterization.

Or even partially.  Membership and activity in the Church is an entirely voluntary thing.

So you have some sort of extra-scriptural pipeline to God, such that you can discern His will regarding you without relying on any "people who claim to represent God" (all prophets and apostles, IOW)?

That pipeline would then be . . . personal revelation, yes?  You believe that God speaks to you directly?  As it happens, we believe the same thing, and yet you are not granting or acknowledging that.

Well, it's your epistemology I'm trying to understand.  You reject the notion of prophets and apostles.  "People who claim to represent God."  But you also apparently claim to have some knowledge of God, much of which arises, I think from the writings of "people who claim to represent God."  So that's a tough nut to crack (for me).

You also seem to be suggesting that you have some sort of personal access to God.  What could be called "personal revelation."  But surely you know we also believe in this.  And yet you are characterizing our belief as including "{because} I said so"-based "authoritarian spirituality." 

In other words, you are substantially mischaracterizing our position by omitting from it the role of personal revelation, while you yourself apparently claim to be relying on that very concept.  We believe that God speaks to prophets via revelation, and also speaks to us individually.  We confirm the verity of the former through experiencing the latter.  We thereafter submit to prophetic authority and stewardship because that is part and parcel of what God has personally revealed to us.  Not because of what you are (incorrectly) attributing to us - "{because} I said so"-based "authoritarian spirituality.

Well, I guess we're getting far afield here.  You have an ideosyncratic approach to God and spirituality.  That approach has come up in a discussion about the beliefs of the Latter-day Saints.  In attempting to better understand what you are saying about us and our beliefs, I have been asking about your remarks, which yield responses about you and your beliefs.

I will step back.  I am not sure either of us intended to have your personal beliefs subjected to public scrutiny and discussion.  I don't understand your position, but I feel that further inquiries about it are starting to become overly intrusive and nosy.  If that has happened, I apologize.

But that's not what we believe.  The Latter-day Saints do not obey the commandments based on mere say-so.

You are not accurately stating our beliefs on this matter.

No.  The Church effectively expects obedience to leaders' inspired and prophetic words based on personal revelation confirming that they represent God.

You are not accurately stating what we believe.

Personal revelation can work for you, but not for us?  Why is that?

I think the revelatory process espoused by the Church works really well.  Consider these remarks by Michael Ash:

The other legs of the stool (scripture, prophets and reason) function well in "vetting" personal revelation.  Utilizing all four "legs" is, in my view, a far more reliable mechanism for discerning truth than relying on just one of them exclusively.

Yes.  Choosing obedience is what we believe.  Compulsory obedience (as intimated by your references to "authoritarian spirituality") is not our thing.  You are attributing to us things that we do not believe.

I think personal biases, emotionisms, finite knowledge and experience, etc. materially limit the efficacy of this approach.  

By way of example, you said (rejecting the quote I gave earlier from Korihor): "One might reject God or reject those who claim to represent God without adopting the philosophy where 'every man fare{s} in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prosper{s} according to his genius, and that every man conquer{s} according to his strength; and whatsoever a man {does is} no crime.'"

I just can't get on board with the "whatever I say, goes" approach to discerning and following the will of God.  That's what happens when we reject external authorities (like prophets and apostles).  This is why I like my personal assessments (derived from two of the legs of the stool, "personal revelation" and "reason") to be buttressed and supported and vetted by past and present prophetic writings (the other two legs, scripture and living prophets).  

I feel quite the opposite.  I am grateful that I have "what the Church says" against which I can compare and contrast my personal perspective.  Without prophets and apostles, the metric of "right" and "wrong" is whatever I want it to be.  However, being a fallen creature, with biases and limited knowledge, and having appetites and passions that - if exercised - may exceed the Lord's boundaries, and living in a fallen world with the philosophies of men all around me, I am really happy that I can turn to prophetic guidance on controversial, difficult, ambiguous issues.

As a lawyer, I have my own sense of what the law is and/or should be.  This sense is surely helpful, not I don't see it as definitive/ultimate.  I may be wrong in ways large or small.  I may be allowing my biases and emotions and such to cloud my assessment.  In order to confirm that my personal sense is accurate, I turn to primary authorities (statutes, case law, etc.).  

Thanks,

-Smac

I love your three-legged stool analogy as applied in this context. It conveys the idea of stability. Relying on all three legs — sound reasoning, personal revelation, and prophetic teaching and warning — gives us stability. Leave out one or two of these and we are apt to fall. 

Edited by Scott Lloyd
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8 minutes ago, Scott Lloyd said:

I love your three-legged stool analogy as applied in this context. It conveys the idea of stability. Relying on all three legs — sound reasoning, personal revelation, and prophetic teaching and warning — gives us stability. Leave out one or two of these and we are apt to fall. 

Michael Ash posits four legs by splitting prophetic counsel into scripture and living prophets/apostles.

Either form of the analogy works, though.

-Smac

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On 3/23/2020 at 12:43 PM, smac97 said:

Let me illustrate: As an attorney, I regularly file paperwork in court and ask the judge to do something (such as, say, granting a motion to dismiss the case).  Now, let's say that the judge denies my motion on spurious grounds (such as the judge having a private, undisclosed hostility against my client).  I later find out that the judge acted improperly. 

If this were to happen, I would likely file an appeal, but the appeal would not be that the judge lacked authority.  I would also not challenge the authority of the State of Utah (which is the source of the adjudicative authority granted to the judge), or the authority of the United States (from which the State of Utah derives its authority).  I would not deny that the judge was invested with authority from the state to adjudicate legal disputes.  I would, instead, argue that the judge did have authority, but that he misused it.  Or that he acted outside its scope (in legal parlance, this would be called "ultra vires" - Latin for "beyond the powers" (meaning outside the scope of the judge's authority)).  A misuse of authority, yes.  But not an overall lack of authority.

I think similar principles apply to matters of governance, administration, authority, etc. in the Church.  An example: Many years ago I witnessed a bishop misuse his authority in a particular way.  In retrospect, I wish I had approached the bishop (privately) and offered an objection to his behavior.  I also wish I had written to the stake president about it.  If I had, I would not have done so by denying that the bishop has authority from the Church.  I also would not have challenged the authority of the Church.  As an observant member, I believe in the foundational theophanies by which Joseph Smith was ordained with priesthood power and authority, and I believe this authority continues to be held by the Church.  Consequently, my communications to the bishop and/or stake president would not have been about the bishop lacking authority, but rather misusing his authority.

Meadow seems to be conflating misuse of authority with an overall lack of authority.  I do not understand how she is doing this.

Thanks,

-Smac

The mere fact that one HOLDS a position of authority means that one has been given that authority, like it or not.

One can use or misuse authority but to say for example that a policeman does not have the authority to pull you over because he has misused authority before, simply doesn't work.

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2 hours ago, smac97 said:

But you seem to be attributing that to the Latter-day Saints.  And the Latter-day Saints don't subscribe to "{because} I said so"-based "authoritarian spirituality."

I completely disagree. 

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

I do not submit myself to the authority of Pres. Nelson because of his say-so.  I submit to him because I have received what I believe to be personal revelation from God pertaining to Restored Gospel.

So authoritarianism doesn't really have much of a role to play here.  Observant members of the Church are observant by choice, not by compulsory obedience to authority.

Again, you are attributing things to the Latter-day Saints which are not so.  You seem to be utterly disregarding the role of personal revelation.

And yet you still submit to him. That is what I am saying. The transmission of the information is authoritarian in nature.

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Personal revelation can work for you, but not for us?  Why is that?

Um, what?  First, I am talking about my reasons for rejecting the authority claims of the LDS church. I'm not talking about what you should do. Second, I answered your question in a way that could be a an alternative for anybody. I acknowledged that I am sure you do not rely on it exclusively. I think I can reasonably assume, by experience in talking with you, that you also rely on many things, including logic, science, and personal experience when you evaluate religious claims.

What I am saying is that I am only rejecting one part, what I am calling authoritarian spirituality. You referred to it when you said "I submit to him because I have received what I believe to be personal revelation from God pertaining to Restored Gospel." That submission is precisely what I mean by authoritarian spirituality. In that moment of submission (regardless of whether you've arrived there voluntarily and can leave if you want) you are engaging in that type of epistemology. 

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

So you have some sort of extra-scriptural pipeline to God, such that you can discern His will regarding you without relying on any "people who claim to represent God" (all prophets and apostles, IOW)?

For myself alone, and no more than anyone else has for themselves.

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

That pipeline would then be . . . personal revelation, yes?  You believe that God speaks to you directly?  As it happens, we believe the same thing, and yet you are not granting or acknowledging that.

Well, it's your epistemology I'm trying to understand.  You reject the notion of prophets and apostles.  "People who claim to represent God."  But you also apparently claim to have some knowledge of God, much of which arises, I think from the writings of "people who claim to represent God."  So that's a tough nut to crack (for me).

You also seem to be suggesting that you have some sort of personal access to God.  What could be called "personal revelation."  But surely you know we also believe in this.  And yet you are characterizing our belief as including "{because} I said so"-based "authoritarian spirituality." 

In other words, you are substantially mischaracterizing our position by omitting from it the role of personal revelation, while you yourself apparently claim to be relying on that very concept.  We believe that God speaks to prophets via revelation, and also speaks to us individually.  We confirm the verity of the former through experiencing the latter.  We thereafter submit to prophetic authority and stewardship because that is part and parcel of what God has personally revealed to us.  Not because of what you are (incorrectly) attributing to us - "{because} I said so"-based "authoritarian spirituality.

I am still an agnostic atheist. This is what I believe about God: if God exists, I believe God is good. My beliefs, my epistemology are independent of whether God exists. I don't base my beliefs on information that is not generally already available to other people. In other words, I don't think I have some special access to the divine or to what is good.

As far as what LDS believe and me characterizing it, I think that your statement of submission to President Nelson pretty well describes what I mean by authoritarian spirituality. Hopefully now we're on the same page about what I am saying.

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

Well, I guess we're getting far afield here.  You have an ideosyncratic approach to God and spirituality.  That approach has come up in a discussion about the beliefs of the Latter-day Saints.  In attempting to better understand what you are saying about us and our beliefs, I have been asking about your remarks, which yield responses about you and your beliefs.

My beliefs regarding God are pretty simple since I do not believe God exists. But I continue to believe that personal spirituality is a sacred thing, for lack of a better word, something to be respected and protected and not violated.  

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

I will step back.  I am not sure either of us intended to have your personal beliefs subjected to public scrutiny and discussion.  I don't understand your position, but I feel that further inquiries about it are starting to become overly intrusive and nosy.  If that has happened, I apologize.

No worries. I have no problem talking about my beliefs, and I have done so on this forum ("I am, others are, kindness is good" is a fair generalisation of them) but this conversation is about why I rejected the church's claims of authority so I would prefer to only take one bite of the elephant at a time.

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

I think the revelatory process espoused by the Church works really well.  Consider these remarks by Michael Ash:

The other legs of the stool (scripture, prophets and reason) function well in "vetting" personal revelation.  Utilizing all four "legs" is, in my view, a far more reliable mechanism for discerning truth than relying on just one of them exclusively.

I think there are other stools, like that of logic, science, and intuition. 

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

I think personal biases, emotionisms, finite knowledge and experience, etc. materially limit the efficacy of this approach.  

You said this in response to me saying:

"Yet I find that I have much more peace and clarity without having the confusion of an institution and its leaders trying to tell me what is good."

I had not defined my approach, only eliminated church authority from it. 

I think that the three-legged stool of "scripture, prophets, and reason" are also vulnerable to limitations. Those limitations include the "personal biases, emotionisms, finite knowledge and experience" of prophets and those who penned scripture and our own "personal biases, emotionisms, finite knowledge and experience."

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

I just can't get on board with the "whatever I say, goes" approach to discerning and following the will of God.  That's what happens when we reject external authorities (like prophets and apostles).  This is why I like my personal assessments (derived from two of the legs of the stool, "personal revelation" and "reason") to be buttressed and supported and vetted by past and present prophetic writings (the other two legs, scripture and living prophets).  

What you seem to be describing sounds like a pretty effective approach when one assumes that God elects spokesman on earth. However, that is a very fundamental assumption and one which really runs into the hazards of misrepresenting God. I'd rather do my best toward goodness. If there is a God who is good, then I'll have drawn closer to God.  If there is no God, I can still be satisfied with that approach in the short term and at the end of my days.

2 hours ago, smac97 said:

I feel quite the opposite.  I am grateful that I have "what the Church says" against which I can compare and contrast my personal perspective.  Without prophets and apostles, the metric of "right" and "wrong" is whatever I want it to be.  However, being a fallen creature, with biases and limited knowledge, and having appetites and passions that - if exercised - may exceed the Lord's boundaries, and living in a fallen world with the philosophies of men all around me, I am really happy that I can turn to prophetic guidance on controversial, difficult, ambiguous issues.

As a lawyer, I have my own sense of what the law is and/or should be.  This sense is surely helpful, not I don't see it as definitive/ultimate.  I may be wrong in ways large or small.  I may be allowing my biases and emotions and such to cloud my assessment.  In order to confirm that my personal sense is accurate, I turn to primary authorities (statutes, case law, etc.).  

I think that is admirable. We work with what we have, right? I, for one, was pleasantly surprised that, after my belief in God ended, I could still find an anchor if I sought it.

Cheers! 

Edited by Meadowchik
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5 hours ago, smac97 said:

Michael Ash posits four legs by splitting prophetic counsel into scripture and living prophets/apostles.

Either form of the analogy works, though.

-Smac

Point taken. 
 

I’m partial to the three-legs version of the analogy, because a third leg is all that is essential to bring stability to the structure and, as you imply, divinely given direction through prophets is conceptually the same, be it ancient or modern. 

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