Dirty Belief

“S/he knows all the dirt and still believes.” Often this kind of statement is taken as evidence that since someone who “knows” more, is smarter, or more experienced is able to navigate the “dirt,” it must be okay for someone who is less informed to believe too. In some interesting discussions on our back channel, the question has arisen, are these two beliefs in fact the same?

One problem that we potentially face in analyzing this question is that often those who do have this kind of dirty belief are not always entirely forthcoming about what they believe. There are many completely legitimate reasons for doing so. They may be sensitive about protecting others from the difficult things they’ve faced, and seek to reassure rather than speak forthrightly. They may seek to protect themselves from unwanted public and ecclesiastical scrutiny, and want to avoid having to defend their dirty beliefs. They may have decided that belief itself is the completely wrong category for how religion, and Mormonism should be practiced. They may think that emphasis on historical origins rather than meaning misses the point, and deflect such questions preciely to make a methodological point.

The point is that the examined faith is not necessarily the same as the unexamined faith. For whatever reason, there seems to be little incentive for those on either side of this divide to emphasize or acknowledge a gap between the two types of belief. The problem that this creates is that those who straddle this divide, those just beginning to deal with the dirt, those not comfortable with the solutions that those with dirty belief have staked out. Where do they turn for peace?

58 Replies to “Dirty Belief”

  1. I’m not certain about this, but this kind of thing strikes me as dishonest.

    When someone says, “Well, I know x, y, z, yet I still believe,” then as you mention, “believe” may mean something completely different for that person than it would for someone else. I don’t think this by itself is problematic…but if a person has a reasonable understanding of how the other person will interpret his words, then isn’t he responsible to an extent for how his words are received? If a person says something recognizing that the other person will most likely interpret it differently, then is it a form of dishonesty not to explain further?

    But your last paragraph is interesting. If examined faith is decidedly different from unexamined faith, then couldn’t it be that what is so troubling about moving from the latter to the former is that it seems different from what was bargained for (e.g., we “bargain” for unexamined faith — that’s the product sold to new members…in many ways, examined faith seems a let down from here.)

  2. Along these lines, I saved this from Kaimi, a good while back.

    “At the risk of overgeneralizing horribly, let me offer a theory on the salience of the archconservative-FARMers view:
    Some heterodox Mormons believe that orthodox church members are orthodox primarily because they are uninformed. If mainline members only knew about JS Polyandry/post-Manifesto polygamy/etc., they would not subscribe to the views that now constitute mainline Mormon orthodoxy. Informed Mormons aren’t orthodox.
    This is by no means a unanimously held view among heterodox Mormons. However, among some segment of Mormon heterodoxy, it exists. Call it the “orthodox sheep” view.
    For a proponent of such taxonomy, FARMS presents a real problem. FARMers _are_ informed. They’ve read as much Quinn and Toscano as anyone else; they know about Zelph and Elijah Abel and the Kinderhook Plates; and yet they’re still on the opposite side of the aisle, so to speak. The existence of such a group does not conform with the basic orthodox-sheep taxonomy.
    In order to keep the taxonomy alive, the orthodox-sheep approach is modified as follows: Informed Mormons aren’t orthodox, unless they’re crazy arch-conservatives. Then FARMers are dismissed as archconservatives.”

  3. Nitsav, i have no idea how one would even go about speaking about such a comparison in a responsible way since i abhor sloppy generalizations (even those i do in my post), but i think the question i raise is whether even the belief of the crazy arch-conservative is really the same as the unexamined faith (whatever that generalization may refer to), as Kaimipono seems to assume here.

    Andrew, good comment. I’m going to bed. Hopefully someone takes up this issue. I will comment soon.

  4. I think your model is flawed. You seem to be specifying two variables (informed/not informed, believe/not believe), then suggesting there is or ought to be a correlation between informed and not believing. I think the two variables are largely independent; the proposed correlation is based on anecdotes, not data. It reflects views or biases of individuals, not data. There are plenty of informed believers and plenty of entirely uninformed Mormons who nevertheless lose their LDS beliefs.

  5. I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon on the other side of the coin, though not really linked to Mormonism. There are a number of people in my classes who will talk the talk of secular scholarship, and are perfectly willing to speak in terms of consensus and critical thinking yet still hold theologically conservative beliefs (e.g. biblical inerrancy) that ought to be challenged by what they’re learning in their research. They can thereby participate in academic discourse without giving any indication that their beliefs are unmodified in spite of the implications of evidence.

    In a similar way, this may be like those Mormon scholars whose “belief” is different from the belief of other Mormons. I’m not necessarily saying they’re being duplicitous; it may be that they are comfortable making some kind of rift between their theological commitments and their scholarship. Or perhaps they choose to suspend judgment temporarily. Perhaps they see academic discourse as an entirely different type of conversation then faith-centered discourse and can thereby justify this kind of schism. Perhaps their confidence in religious scholarship in general is not as firm as the rest of their colleagues. Cynically, they may not even be on board with secular scholarship; they’re just in it for the degree.

  6. Dave’s got a point. Anyway, what about the correlation between self-interest and believing? Just anecdotally, there sure seems to be a bunch of folks feigning belief because they need/enjoy the access that it grants and the advantages it affords. That’s an even dirtier form of belief in my book.

  7. Dave, I do not think TT is saying there is such a correlation or ought to be one, he is addressing such an assumption.

    Of course, we are all faking it because it benefits us. I would love to see that rational choice model.

  8. Nitsav,

    good quote!

    I like TT’s question after that, but I think it changes things up. For example, even if “arch-conservative” examined beliefs are different from unexamined beliefs, the issue is we don’t have these monolithic categories of “unexamined” vs “examined”…rather examined beliefs have a wide range (from “arch-conservative,” so to speak…all the way to heterodox) and so do unexamined beliefs.

    I guess the big question (as usual) is: what is orthodox Mormonism?


    I don’t think “believe” vs. “not believe” was brought up at all. Rather, the issue is, what is meant by “believe” from one instance to the next? In this way, I think that whether one is informed or uninformed affects the way one believes (and similarly, whether one is informed or uninformed CERTAINLY changes the way one might not believe).

  9. This old guy still believes in Santa Clause.

    I want to.

    But now the white beard, the red suit, and the bag of toys (and all the other tangibles) tend to just symbolize something I recognize as much greater, more complex, and something in part intangible and not fully discovered in cold, hard facts. Nonetheless it’s something I deem worthy of my love and attention. There’s something real and essential in the creative imagination that I seem endowed with even if that seems paradoxical.

    Becoming rather than being is very important for me. The very same dynamic seems true with respect to the gospel, belief, and faith. I cherish the element of creative imagination in my belief in the gospel and see it as on-going and vital in the face of cold, hard facts, just like a fake beard or flying reindeer relative to Santa Claus.

    The process doesn’t seem to be a divide to me. It seems to be a continuum.

  10. I suspect that many of those seeking the peace mentioned in the OP might appreciate a moratorium on the kind of mischaracterization and snark on offer in #7 (and, anyways, re that comment, it’s not as if the OP’s second graf isn’t already a kind of cost-benefit analysis). In any case, pls accept this sincere invitation. Because, as many completely legitimate reasons might be proffered for being less than forthcoming about one’s beliefs, wouldn’t it feel good to click over and just let ’em all hang out for once? All true believers welcome.

  11. I like the parallel wit Santa Claus made by wreddyornot. I know that Santa does not really come down the chimney and bring toys, partially because my parents told me and also because the gas fireplace would make that tricky. But Santa Clause is not really the point. It is about the joy of the season. My 10 year old figured out Santa a while back, but I think he enjoys it more now because he is part of it.

    I am not saying that we believers are just playing along…we are not. However, the fact that I do not believe in the narrative I believed in when I was 19 does not mean that I do not have faith or that I do not have a testimony in the church. The problem is when our faith is in the narrative and not in Christ.

  12. Srsly? I’m touched. Or banned. Maybe both.

    Anyways, it’s been an interesting run. Can’t talk about Ralph Hancock’s dark outlook, ‘cuz he’s a friend. And editorial decisions at patheos.com are off-limits for open discussion, because, well, the gatekeepers are also friends. Not to mention Chris H.’s BFF Ardis. Nope, nothing to see there, best move along, folks.

    If you happen to be a grown-up who doesn’t appreciate being treated like the fifth wheel at an impromptu middle school hallway popularity contest, it probably is best to just move along. Srsly.

    Rather than help those struggling to straddle the divide, let’s just shame them into ignoring it. Awesome.


  13. Chris H,

    We had a discussion elsewhere about Santa Claus; did you see it?

    I don’t know if I posted it…but my problem with the Christmas/Santa analogy is precisely because it falls apart. With Christmas, adults are “in on it.” That’s part of the joy, as you mention, of finding out that Santa isn’t real (once you get over the crushing realization that the world isn’t so magical.) Being complicit is fun.

    But religion…isn’t like that. So when there is a different narrative, that is a problem. It’s not “adults” knowingly playing a game with unknowing “children.”

    Consider the implications of the Christmas/Santa analogy to religion. I mean, actually, we do have a kind of milk -> meat concept that kinda sort is applicable. But the issue is that with Christmas, we know that Santa is insufficient. However, many members are led to believe that the “milk” of many members’ faith content is “orthodox” or “truer” or whatever.

  14. I have no idea what the apparently entirely gratuitous Chris H/Chino beef is here, but let me add it to the list of crap not to be discussed.

  15. The problem is when our faith is in the narrative and not in Christ.

    Per the OP, shouldn’t that be narratives, plural? And isn’t that maddening multiplicity the heart of the matter?

    All apologies, but I take it as a given that the vast majority of Mormons manage an utterly sincere faith in Christ. What they don’t manage very well are the competing narratives. Because when it comes around to the business of actually discarding one or the other, where to begin? With yours or somebody else’s?

  16. I think that Dave’s critique and Andrew’s entirely correct response are more what I am interested in. I certainly don’t see belief/non-belief as the only two options since the whole point is about figuring out what belief might mean for those in different situations.

    Let me emphasize that I think that the category of belief is woefully undertheorized. If I were to be a bit forthcoming, if hyperbolic, I honestly am not sure what to make of “belief.” I think it is basically the wrong category to evaluate religions by, including Mormonism. I don’t even know what it means epistemologically to declare a belief. Instead, I prefer practice and meaning as ways for thinking about religion both intellectually and personally. I recognize that I am in the minority on this, so in part I want to get at in this post what belief means, and how we evaluate different kinds of belief, and why it is really important, or if it is at all.

  17. Chino,
    I think your #16 is an entirely appropriate contribution to the discussion, and welcome it. Let’s all try to stick to the issues at hand, not grievances.

  18. TT,

    I think there are quite a few people (not enough to take you out of the minority, though, haha) who have written about viewing religions in terms of practices rather than beliefs (e.g., all the orthopraxy vs. orthodoxy discussions) [if that’s what you mean]…it seems pretty par for the NOM course.

    BUT I think even this poses a problem. Suppose your view is that belief is the wrong category to evaluate religions (esp. Mormonism) by. You’re still dealing with many, many people who think otherwise, and when you say something like, “I’m a faithful Mormon,” if you do not clarify, then you can reasonably expect these people to take away something VERY different than what you mean.

    It seems to me we need to really talk about what is “orthodox” and what is “heterodox.” It seems clear that you can be “orthodox” while having examined, informed beliefs (and likewise, you can be heterodox and not have examined that). But we can’t even really point to what things are meant by orthodoxy.

  19. Chino/Andrew,
    I think you raise a point worth discussing, about what I would call an expectation of honesty or authenticity. But I think that Andrew’s point about what constitutes orthodoxy is the really important issue. The claim is that we should be honest or authentic with respect to what? Whose standards? Why should the standards which one person rejects constitute the standards by which their authenticity is judged? Why should these people bear the extra burden of specificity when that same burden isn’t put on others? In other words, why must a Mormon submit to some fictitious person’s definition of what “faithful” means? This doesn’t mean that there are not limits to the community, but the case must be made for why those limits and not others.

  20. TT,

    My position is framed more out of social awareness of expectations than any formal, objective, or universal standard..

    For example, regardless of what ultimately is orthodox, wouldn’t it be accurate to say that if you knew someone long enough, you would begin to glean an idea of what they consider orthodox? If so, then wouldn’t you have an AWARENESS of what someone expects or interprets orthodoxy to mean?

    If people speak within this framework of awareness, then it should follow that no specificity is needed…because the parties involved share a referent. They know what to expect when orthodoxy is used. If I use faithful to mean x and you use faithful to mean x and we both know we can expect each other to mean x, there is no specificity required because we have shared definitions.

    But if for another person, orthodoxy means something else…say…”y”…and they are AWARE that the person they are talking to would think it means “x”, then I think specificity is a duty on the speaker.

    This is not about setting objective or universal standards. This is about personal relationships, caring about the individual you are dealing with on the day-to-day basis. If you know that someone would take faithful to mean x, and you intend faithful to mean y, then…on a PERSONAL level, why WOULDN’T you have the obligation to disclose that when you say you’re faithful, you mean y? Would it not bother you to say “I am faithful” and have them misinterpret you?

  21. Andrew,
    Maybe, but I guess I want something more than a vague social awareness by which someone might be judged, or by which their failure to disclose X or Y is deemed relevant. For instance, I know that someone who believes in BOM historicity in a limited way, such as Ostler, is considered “okay” by the apostles. I also know from Holland’s remarks that even those who don’t accept it at all are welcomed in the church. If I know my bishop doesn’t accept this more open standard that even the apostles accept, why exactly should I accept his standard of orthodoxy over theirs? Even if you’re not looking for a universal, you still seem to imply that a relationship grants a degree of normativity to the standard held by the parties in that relationship. That doesn’t seem to make sense to me.

    But, I think your point about openness in long term relationships is a different one, but one that is not tied to the obligations to conform to the supposed “awareness” of the standards in any particular idiosyncratic relationship, but rather the obligations entailed in the relationship itself. Does that make sense?

  22. Chino/Andrew? For the record, there is no Brundlefly. Chino and Andrew are entirely separate organisms. That said, if you want to imagine Andrew as some kind of Seth Brundle, I have no compunction assuming the role of the fly. Insect politics are more my speed anyways.

  23. TT,

    If I know my bishop doesn’t accept this more open standard that even the apostles accept, why exactly should I accept his standard of orthodoxy over theirs?

    Proximity is one reason. The people in your ward are the people you’re going to deal with frequently. Those are the people you learn and grow from (where learning and growing obviously is more expansive than book learning.)

    Keep in mind this goes both ways. People in really great liberal wards say, “Why should I be lumped in with conservative people I don’t agree with in other wards? The people in my ward are great and accepting.” Their point is: my local community matters to me more BECAUSE it is the one I interface with.

    You can then decry the vast variances between Bishops, wards, etc., and call for more uniform…but I think the issue is that the church is already TRYING to achieve that (e.g., CHI).

    I don’t think I get your distinction about openness in long-term relationships (e.g., obligations entailed in the relationship itself vs. obligations to conform to the awareness of standards???) I think I’m describing relationships through and through. You have a relationship with your Bishop, believe it or not.

  24. Andrew,
    Proximity and closeness are not necessarily the same thing, right? Speaking in the realm of the hypothetical, it may be that I have neither a long nor close relationship with my bishop. We happen to be geographically proximate at this point, but certainly that itself is not the condition which establishes an obligation for the kind of disclosure that you describe.

    I think that the point that I am making is that the obligation of having an intimate conversation about whether or not belief is important, or about divergent beliefs between two people, or whatever does not arise from mere proximity, but from the conditions which form a long-term, real, relationship.

    Nor, does it seem, that simply having a divergent belief in itself constitute the condition for an obligation to greater clarity. The reason is that there is no reason, that I can see, to accept one view as normative over the other. I don’t expect someone to offer a checklist of the things they do and don’t accept when they tell me, “I’m a Mormon,” or “I’m a ‘faithful’ Mormon,” (as if ‘faithful’ is some clear qualifier that I am supposed to know what it means,) and I don’t think that they expect it of me either. It seems a rather arbitrary expectation, and one that seems to fall more heavily on those who believe certain things (like BoM 19th c. origins, for instance) than those who believe other things (like those who think all abortions are sinful, for instance).

    For the same reason, I am not obliged to clarify to the girl who sits next to me in class that I am secretly in love with her, when I say, “you’re cool.” If we in fact establish a relationship of trust, perhaps the opportunities for greater clarity might arise, but maybe not. Either way, I don’t see any obligation to disclosure. Maybe this analogy is all wrong, and perhaps it takes us down a path that is really ultimately irrelevant… I hope not.

  25. TT,

    A ward in the church establishes closeness by proxy of its proximity. I’m thinking about things like “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel.” I think the ward is meant to be an extension of your family — a group you have involuntarily entered that demands closeness because of what it is. Even if they are annoying, or they mooch off of you, or they offend you, etc.,

    Basically, I have no problems with you saying that these conversations arise as a result of “the conditions which form a long-term, real relationship,” but my argument is that the ward should ALWAYS fit this criteria — even if you don’t like it.

    Of course, I guess you could counter that this is just my particular view that Mormonism is about community…yet we haven’t even established what is orthodox 😉

    Moving on though…it’s not that you accept one view as more normative than the other. It’s that you recognize that your goal is clarity — and if so, you need to account for the discrepancy in definitions. Unless your goal isn’t clarity…but that’s why I mentioned in my first comment that I wonder if that’s not dishonest.

    The reason someone doesn’t expect you to give a checklist of what you mean when you say, “I’m a Mormon,” is because they already assume Mormon means something particular and will interpret it in their way unless you do anything to disavow them of this. I’m saying…if you know this (which you ought), then why wouldn’t you disavow them of that? Your answers seem to suggest you aren’t going for clarity…or that clarity would hurt you (e.g., bishop isn’t as accepting, girl would think you’re a creeper). And then you seem to suggest (correct me if I’m wrong) that you don’t have an obligation for the kind of clarifying honesty until you have established a relationship of trust.

  26. Andrew,
    I share your vision of the ideal ward, and I share your vision of Mormonism as being about community. The only difference is that I think that wards, and individuals in certain wards, won’t always live up to that ideal any more than members of a biological family will live up to their ideals. Add to that transitoriness, differences in age, status, education, and mental health, and I see more qualifications arise that might hamper that ideal of full, open conversation that I think we both value. That said, such qualifications don’t mean that we can’t learn, teach, and offer each other things, only that the conditions for the highest degree of sharing might not always occur, which I think severely limits any claim to an obligation to share them.

    I’m not sure I see the tension you are pointing to in your second paragraph. Is it that trust and disclosure are bound up in such a way that one cannot simply follow the other, but are mutually established?

  27. For the record, Geena Davis was the only cool thing happening in that particular flick.

    And for what it’s worth, I think the OP has forgotten what it means to be young in this organization. Geographical proximity is everything.

  28. TT,

    I don’t think this applies only to the ideal ward. Part of the entire process is realizing that, even if your family is jerks, crooks, or whatever else, you cannot escape the fact that they are your family.

    Well, actually, you can emancipate yourself and run away, which may or may not be similar to the things you can do in the church if you have a really terrible ward.

    …But whatever the case, don’t think I’m talking about something as wishy washy as “full, open communication.” No, I mean that you as an individual should want to FIGHT to be understood correctly. But if you do not clarify, then it is YOU, not me, who is acquiescing to another view. When you assert what you mean when you use a term like “faithful,” YOU challenge the idea of one normative viewpoint.

    The tension: how can I trust you if I find out that all this time, you didn’t tell me what you *really* thought for whatever reason (you didn’t think I would react well; you didn’t think we had the right relationship, etc.,) Maybe I haven’t thought about it enough, but it SEEMS to me that they are mutually established.

  29. Chino,
    Young where? Utah? California? Anyplace with the internet? What about the young whose families move? Proximity is rather wide, I suspect, even for them.

  30. Andrew,
    So let me take your position as it is proposed, and see if we can play it out. What exactly are you proposing? I can’t recall saying in my ward any time lately “I’m a faithful Mormon,” so it can’t be that we are limited to that phrase exactly as the trigger that entails the obligation to define that. So, what are you saying? In testimony meeting each month I should get up and plead my case that belief is not the right way to think about religion? That in ward council I should explain the qualified way in which I think about petitionary prayer? That in Gospel Doctrine I raise my hand and say that personally, I don’t believe that Luke was Paul’s traveling companion anytime Luke or Paul are mentioned? Or, are their more effective, subtle, and trust-building ways to share one’s faith?

  31. I have to go to class soon, but I’ll try to get something out on my phone…I think your proposed testimony would be refreshing to hear, esp. If you elaborate on what you DO think plays a more pivotal role in religion.

    But in many of these instances, you don’t have to say anything at all. (do you normally talk about Paul???) The issue is if you already happen to be saying something, be clear in what you’re

  32. What use is subtlety when the local bishop is a rube and the only thing more apparent than your younger brother’s intellectual brilliance, purity of heart, social ineptness and general naïveté is that the first thing this particular ecclesiastical leader is going to do is to make sure your kid brother is assigned to a Utah mission. Because my kid brother, unlike me, bought it all … hook, line and sinker. Total believer. And what did he get? He got what’s on offer for all those who haven’t figured out the game before 19. He should’ve been the overseas branch president, zone leader, AP that I was. Lord knows he would’ve appreciated it more. Instead, he wound up another victim of the LDS know-nothing surveillance culture.

    Let’s be clear about one thing: If you’re bright, if you’ve read widely, and you’re unflinchingly honest with your local leadership about what’s on your teenage mind before embarking on a mission, chances are you’ll raise all kinds of suspicions about your character that will result in a sub-optimal mission posting.

  33. Nitsav (2) I think that’s right. The informed believer is an intellectual threat to some.

    TT (3) I also think that “conservative” in either a religious social sense or a theological sense is largely orthogonal to the issue of belief or knowledge. I’d add that we perhaps ought distinguish socially conservative in religious settings from theologically conservative. Although even that is problematic – what’s theologically conservative? Relative to McConkie the FARMS folks have pretty different views. And both are quite different from Brigham Young fans.

    Andrew (20). I also think the theory vs. practice distinction ends up being unhelpful. I know many think Mormonism makes more sense in terms of a focus on practice rather than belief ala Protestants. There’s some truth to that but I think it obscures a lot since beliefs about an overarching narrative are pretty important for Mormons. The question is always about what things are speculation and what things are revealed/true. Then there is the debate about sources establishing what is revealed.

    My perception is that those labeled conservative are usually those who place a high value on scripture and secondary important GA writings and give them the benefit of doubt. The main difference between FARMS folks and what for lack of a better term I’ll call McConkites is that FARMS elevate science such as to decide what narratives can be discounted whereas McConkites are far more skeptical of science. And those critical of FARMS (the positions, not necessarily the rhetorical style) tend to elevate “argument from silence” higher still.

    Is that a fair way of characterizing it?

    TT (23) I’d have a hard time saying Blake believes in BoM historicity in a limited way. He proposed a theory that allows for more expansion. But I’ve not got any impression his own views are much different from the typical FARMS guys. (I might be wrong – I can’t recall ever discussing it with him) I raise this since I think there are some who want epistemology to be a simple straightforward affair and see Blake’s writings as problematic because it becomes far more complex. But then I think that true of most of FARMS. Things get complex.

  34. Chino,
    In my youth ward, the bishop’s son, who was Seminary President, valedictorian, and football captain went to Tennesee, meanwhile I went overseas and was none of those things. I have know more than one Ivy League kid get called to Provo and Ogden, and I am not kidding that I really do know these people. Mission calls do not represent the Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial kingdoms of youth righteousness and brilliant potential.

    Nor do they have anything to do with this post.

  35. Clark,

    I can see your point. I am very intrigued by what you wrote concerning the valuation of different sources in determining speculation vs. revealed truth (e.g., ” those labeled conservative are usually those who place a high value on scripture and secondary important GA writings and give them the benefit of doubt”, etc.,)

    Unrelated P.S., I just realized there’s a button to switch to a Mobile mode. That would’ve been great to have seen when I was struggling to write a message on my phone 🙂

  36. “For whatever reason, there seems to be little incentive for those on either side of this divide to emphasize or acknowledge a gap between the two types of belief.”

    i think this statement captures the problem well, tt.

    student so-and-so takes up the study of something that has some bearing on the gospel. she assumes/expects/hopes that her study will increase her gospel knowledge, which perhaps was what drew her to that study in the first place.

    if the assumption/expectation/hope is not already second-nature to her, it gets reinforced by others. the neighbor, the friend, the ward member, the relative says, “oh, you’re studying that. you must have a great understanding of gospel topic thus-and-so.”

    in response, the student may say, “well, yes, in fact, my study does enrich my belief.” and she may offer an example or two, thereby perpetuating the concept that study leads to increased gospel knowledge. now she herself is reinforcing the assumption/expectation/hope in the neighbor, the friend, the ward member, the relative.

    the student may have replied in the affirmative without reservation, or she may have held back for whatever reason. either way, the (vicious) cycle continues.

    supposing that the cycle is not (always) a healthy one, what if (and watch me take a line from self-help) the student were to break it? if in fact she feels that her study does not enrich her faith sometimes, mostly, if ever, but rather seriously challenges it to that point she has trouble articulating her belief, would she not be morally obligated to say as much and provide examples?

    maybe. maybe not. to do so without regard for the consequences, the place, whom the student is talking to, etc., would be wreckless and possibly juvenile, i think.

    and then there’s the how. i find dramatic confrontations to be in bad taste. but this is the natural thing for the would-be cycle-breaker to do: go on the ‘defensive’ by means of pre-emptive strike.

  37. g.wesley,

    I performed one of these cycle-breaker thingies just a couple of evenings ago. My mother-in-law is in town for a bit and she got to asking me about my studies and then she dropped the QUESTION: “So have you found things that have strengthened your faith?”

    She really is a gentle and (self-admittedly naively) happy soul and I did not want to deceive her (I do sympathize with some of Andrew S.’s sentiments here) and I also wanted to do a little assertive cycle-breakage so I did. I more or less told her that what and how I study destroys narrative and claims to knowledge (in a Mormon confession sense). I also added that I think that I have developed a dynamic and flexible sort of faith and that I currently feel pretty good about the exchange. I am not sure how she took things since the topic of conversation changed.

  38. that sounds perfect, oudenos.

    not long ago i tried it on a ward member who invited us to dinner and asked the question. as far as i could tell, the result was nothing more than awkward pause. oh well.

    more recently, another ward member asked me what i thought of nibley’s approach. i gave what i thought was a pretty even handed and straightforward reply, and he took it just fine.

  39. g.wesley,

    if in fact she feels that her study does not enrich her faith sometimes, mostly, if ever, but rather seriously challenges it to that point she has trouble articulating her belief, would she not be morally obligated to say as much and provide examples?

    I tried that last Christmas. The examples and the challenges I cited to my relatives were ever-so-slight and they became very alarmed — excessively so in my opinion. I felt like even bringing up the issues had effectively communicated my views or feelings about what I was learning.

    While i appreciate the moral obligation not to mislead, I do not think being forthright in this way solves the problem. Many listeners, when they perceive a departure from the standard narrative (especially if it is induced from outside the church), interpret it as a spiritual crisis. It may well be a spiritual crisis for you, but if not, then your style of transparency may not convey your true feelings as effectively as you anticipate.

  40. David Hume might say that there are only two things that matter about religion or anything else in life:

    1. Is it good for me?
    2. Am I hurting anyone else?

    If you can answer the first question with yes and the second question with no then nobody has a right to tell you that your beliefs are silly.

  41. I think that the OP slightly misses the point (and I don’t have time right now to discover if it is found in the comments). People in the church who “know the dirt” are inspirational not because they know dirt and their belief remains unchallenged, but because they know the dirt and they are still able to find a comfortable place in the church. That is difficult (as numerous exit stories would indicate). Perhaps one might tend to think that the staying the church is not an inherent good; I would disagree, but only slightly. Certainly, there are times and places that Mormonism would qualify as Bad Religion (referring to Ronan’s posts on the same at BCC), but I tend to believe that it is an aggregate good, so continued affiliation seems laudable to me. Your mileage may vary.

    Actually I’ve skimmed the comments sufficient to mischaracterize Chino’s comments. Certainly, it would behoove us as Christians and humans to accept that the questions and struggles that those who learned the dirt and couldn’t subsequently find a place in the church as natural. Not every person can have the same response to trauma (psychic or otherwise) and I don’t see the point in assigning value judgments to those reactions. It is not out of the realm of possibility that some folks need to leave the church to find God (usually in the aftermath of our own bouts of Bad Religion). Of course, people on both sides of that divide like to universalize their own experience. If you knew that Joseph Smith translated out of a hat: a. it shouldn’t matter at all that you were told something else growing up; or b: this is the greatest of all lies perpetrated by humanity and how anyone can be a Mormon after learning this is beyond me. Both responses are exaggerated, but both are present in the discourse between current and ex mormons (and I think we can tell from the examples which side I favor, so there’s that, I guess). Of course, most people don’t fit either stereotype and most don’t quit or stay over one issue. If only we would fit into one or more easily discussed or dismissed category, internet discussion would be a lot more comprehensive.

    So, strangely, I don’t feel it is immoral to leave the church, but I do feel it is moral to stay (mostly). That’s a gross overgeneralization (sorry, TT), but it comes closest to my position (which I’m sure you all care about anyhoo).

  42. “So, strangely, I don’t feel it is immoral to leave the church, but I do feel it is moral to stay (mostly).”

    I like that sentiment. I think it also gets the the complexity and unique nature of each situation and experience.

  43. these are all good points, i think.

    a take:

    i fully agree that “People in the church who ‘know the dirt’ are inspirational not because they know dirt and their belief remains unchallenged, but because they know the dirt and they are still able to find a comfortable place in the church.” this is a key distinction.

    i also think that the OP is getting at this with the idea of different types of belief and the importance of recognizing them, however difficult that is. the problem seems to be that dirty believers don’t always let on. and so everyone else is left to assume that they don’t doubt, that they have not had to find/negotiate a comfortable place.

    and why should they let on at that christmas party or in that deseret book publication, when what they have to say is liable to be misunderstood and they risk accusations of doctrinal apostasy, or worse?

    well, one possible reason is that it appears to be central to the process of finding that comfortable place in the church for yourself and contributing to the creation of it for others who come after you.

    once upon a time, human evolution was not to be taught at byu. now it’s pretty safe (at least, that’s my impression). in part, the mormon biologist has his predecessors to thank for helping to create this (more) comfortable place.

    such instances of secularization are good for the dirty believers. whether they hurt anyone else, is a tough call.

  44. Ok, I have read all the comments and still don’t quite understand on what model of relationships Andrew S. is basing his plea for full disclosure. We pretty much don’t have full disclosure in ANY of our relationships, though good marriage and family relationships get close at times.

    Plus, more factors are at play than the contours of personal belief. Yes, I agree that when possible, a tactful but honest answer is best.

    I think one of the most exquisite tensions in the critical investigation of religion is that the conclusions of such investigations often challenges the faith that is so useful to the majority. I personally think that it falls to the more informed to judge what is best to say in each particular interaction. Yes, it is impossible to know what someone really can or can’t handle, but I think loving and precise communication that also respects the hearer’s faith is the higher ground.

    I am not advocating presenting yourself as something you are not. But I think the idea that at any given point we need to make it clear what exactly we do or do not believe is impractical. I prefer an approach that is reactive rather than proactive, and tactful and respectful of the listener’s needs and preparation to learn more. So anyone carefully listening to my testimony will get the sense that my beliefs may differ or be more nuanced, and those who want to know more will ask.

    On the other hand, if even someone as close to me as my mother never asks me specifics, it may not be productive to lay it all out in detail.

  45. I dunno, man.

    I don’t know what I’m saying half the time.

    Anyway, I just get the feeling that plenty of people here would be absolutely comfortable saying, “I believe x,” when they KNOW that they mean something quite different by either “believe” or “x” than what the person will interpret…and they don’t care about clarifying.

    Maybe this situation arises because many people aren’t “carefully listening,” and so they won’t necessarily “get the sense that your beliefs may differ of be more nuanced,” and as a result, they won’t know that there’s more to ask about in the first place.

    Anyway, however it happens, it just doesn’t sit well with me.

    Suppose you can anticipate that some people aren’t “carefully listening” and so they will anticipate a lack of nuance in your testimony and beliefs. If you can anticipate such people, but you don’t do anything to fill them in on the nuance, are you presenting yourself as something you’re not?

  46. No, I am presenting myself as what I am, and allowing people to make the assumptions/interpretations they are ready to make. I think that is a reasonable approach. It is not my responsibility to make sure I am understood correctly simply for the sake of being understood, especially with so much at stake. People can take responsibility for their own conclusions. How rarely do we stop and make sure we are understanding correctly? There are communication issues compounded by the larger implications for faith.

    TT, I liked your classmate crush analogy. We communicate on so many levels, and people either pick up the hints or not. If they pick up on hints that means they are ready for more.

  47. Enoch,

    I feel that communication is two-way. It’s not just about what I say (e.g., “presenting myself as what I am,”) but also about what message is received by the listener or audience. If I present myself as what I am but a different message than the one I intended is received by the listener, then I feel that is a flat-out failure in communication. Most communication classes I take go far enough to say that if I present myself as what I am but disregard what is heard by the listener, then REGARDLESS of whether my message is interpreted as I want it or not, I have failed to communicate appropriately.

    I think in many instances, we have to LEARN to stop and make sure we are understanding correctly. We have to learn to play back what people say to us in our own words, and ask if that is right, because we naturally want to assume. Sometimes, with hilarious effects…other times, with tragic ones.

    Maybe I want certain failures in communication. But then I shouldn’t argue certain things — the situation of “dirty belief” is precisely one of those areas, I feel, because someone who says, “He knows all the dirt, and yet he believes” has very particular ideas of what “belief” entails that may not be true for someone who knows all the dirt. If people who have “dirty belief” are not forthcoming about what they believe and how, then others can continue to communicate ideas which may simply be false.

  48. Andrew,

    I agree with you, if the goal of the communication is primarily to transmit information, make sure that you both are on the same page, etc. In a business setting, for example, that would make perfect sense.

    With relationships, I see the situation as much more complicated. We are not simply trying to make sure we are properly understood, we are using words to shape the relationship itself, our own and our listener’s self-conceptions, etc. We need to think not only about what to say and whether that accurately represents what we feel or think; we also need to be sensitive to what the results of our words will be. And I think that applies in a religious setting as well. I think and believe many things, but I will share aspects of those thoughts and beliefs as appropriate in any given situation. Partial understanding is not a failure in communication if my overall goals are reached (engaging with people at the level they are prepared for, example).

    But again, I agree that people should have a general gist of where we stand, whether or not they are ready or seek for further clarification.

    I probably should have restated your point to make sure I am understanding you right. 😉

  49. In a possibly tenuously related point, do you think that the way church history and doctrine is approached is ideal? E.g., people learn one thing in church, and if they want to learn something else, they mostly go to outside sources (whether they are symposia, blogs like FPR, etc., etc.)? And then they live essentially a double-life, being viewed as one way in the ward and as another way online/at symposia/in the journals/etc.? Maybe even struggling to understand why there is such a discrepancy?

  50. Upon reflection, I guess I haven’t really addressed the whole simple faith/scrutinized faith issue. I have heard some who perpetuate this idea; I was rather shocked to hear one grad student share how when people came to her with questions she didn’t need to give the answers. It was enough for them that *she* knew the answers.

    I personally don’t approve of that approach. When one of my ward members told me he wanted to know more about religion, I replied, “Which path do you want? Do you want the Institute approach, where you learn some more cool historical facts that pretty much support what you already know? Or do you want the more challenging approach, where you will look at primary sources and scholarship and may not get the answers you want?” He answered, Institute. 🙂

    I do not think we should inflict unwanted knowledge on people as a rule. At the same time, we should nurture an environment where as many as desire can learn the more complicated picture.

    Which relates to your last question. No, I don’t think the way the Church teaches Church history and doctrine is ideal at all. I have thought about the issue and think the following approach would be beneficial:

    1) Teach the “simple” narratives, but also nuance them so that those who want more information get the hint it is there (the hat included in the Church’s reconstruction of the Peter Whitmer home, mentioning multiple First Vision accounts, etc)

    2) Most importantly, provide a framework of understanding human nature, history, and philosophy adequate to deal with the more complicated picture. The tricky issue is how to meet the needs of differing individuals… some need the more simple narratives, some the complexity.

    3) Allow those who have worked through the issues and remained part of the community to serve as mentors, rather than disciplining them.

    (more detail here here: http://www.staylds.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=2011)

  51. I guess I can see more of where you’re coming from (still getting through all the responses to the message board topic you posted [p.s. i love the idea of “it gets better” ads for unorthodox mormons]). I just don’t think you can push for this kind of approach without being a little more assertive (or, maybe I mean be a little more forthright with what you believe and how you believe — reshaping the relationships as a result) offline.

    It seems that if you engage people the way they’ve always been engaged (because that’s the level they are prepared for), then there won’t be any incentive to change to a system that hints at nuance. People won’t get it. No “agitation” for “revelation,” to use that analogy.

  52. I think we are getting on the same page Andrew. 🙂 I do agree that some careful and well-placed pushing is very much careful. I also think we need to be sensitive to how much is on the line for those who take their faith seriously (and usually literally).

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