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Love Lying Integrity Interpretation

Love Lying Integrity Interpretation

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Published by Jared Anderson

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Published by: Jared Anderson on Jun 26, 2011
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Jared Anderson
Faith & Knowledge Conference 2011
Duke University
Imagine that you are organizing a dinner for your religious community. As you areplanning the delicious and healthy menu, you come across a problem: You discover thatthe majority is allergic to precisely what the minority needs. What do you serve? How doyou nourish all, giving to each what is needed without triggering the others?Here is the quandary as I see it: On one hand, the spirituality enjoyed by most believersworks. Within a clear framework of particular religions, God answers prayers, grantsmiracles of guidance and healing, transforms character. Specific religious beliefs andpractices within a particular religious community provide great benefits. On the otherhand, I would carefully suggest that a rigorous, critical examination of religiondeconstructs every denomination it touches. I do not think it is possible to take seriouslyboth the conclusions of academic investigation and the literal and particular claims of individual religions, though critical inquiry cannot fully challenge spirituality in general.Thus the intractable problem: How do we sustain the straightforward belief of themajority, while addressing the concerns of the minority who take the path of critical andhistorical investigation? Unprecedented access to information and a “google generation”predisposed to search it out makes this a crisis we must address immediately. On apersonal level, this is where we must balance love and lying, factor in integrity andinterpretation.This paper will be unavoidably personal, as I take seriously the lack of a programmatic“right answer” to this inherently insoluble paradox. I can only share how I havenegotiated these tensions in a satisfying and productive way, and make observations andsuggestions based on my experience. I would add, however, that I don’t think thisparadox needs to be solved, only addressed. I suggest we grapple honestly with the1
tension between faith and scholarship and move forward with an approach thatmaximizes the benefits to as many people as possible.It was teaching World Religions that convinced me that critical examination of religioncan only work in one direction. First, I need to distinguish spirituality from exclusiveclaims of particular denominations. I maintain a firm belief in spirituality and believe thatin addition to the primacy of personal experience, scholarship, history, and even scientificinvestigation can support the reality of spiritual phenomena. On the other hand, there arephilosophical, theological, and critical reasons for suspecting the claims specificreligions, namely:1) If there really is a supreme Creator of the Universe who interacts with all things, it islogical that He/She/They would be far beyond our comprehension.
2) Mormon theology (and I would say theology in general) supports the idea thatwhatever God’s form or nature, God adapts Himself (I use the pronoun flexibly) to ourunderstandings, expectations, and limitations (see 2Ne. 31:3, Ether 12:39; D&C 29:33;50:12; 88:46, which all imply that God speaks to us in a way we will understand morethan the way “things really are”).
3) Finally and significantly, study of the religions of the world and human historydemonstrates that humans conceptualize gods and the divine in their own image. Sowhatever the reality of God and spiritual truth may be, human religions clearly constitutecultural constructions designed to meet human needs and reinforce the values andpractices of leadership in the community. Most particular religions teach that theirs is thetrue way, or at least the best way!I believe that scholarship and critical analysis can support a denomination as beneficial oreven among the best, but not the “Only True Church.” So though I love the LDS Churchand find Mormon theology, scripture, and lifestyle better than any other religion withwhich I am familiar, I gently suggest that the idea that Adam and Eve were Mormons andthe subsequent story of the apostasy and restoration of truth and authority is untenable.Apologetic arguments and investigation can weaken counterclaims and thereby allow (orcreate) room to believe, but they cannot, in my view, create an overall theory moreplausible than the academic ones they are opposing.2
Seeing value in what may be fiction works for some but not others, and inevitablysomething is lost. It can be argued that not only do religious myths maintain power in ourlives, but that for most people, some of that power is predicated on
taking myths literally
.Belief in a literal, loving Father you can talk to and will someday return and embraceincreases the effectiveness of prayer. Accepting narratives of healing at face valueestablishes expectation for miracles in our lives. What do we do when certainty isyearned for yet unattainable?When this intractable conundrum collides with the culture-changing informationprovided by the internet, the crises of faith and activity ensue. The current approach of evading problems, affirming traditional interpretation, and at most brushing on a veneerof apologetics can propel people into either agnosticism or Gnosticism. Either questionersfeel dissatisfied and alienated by a community they often still love, or “InternetMormons”, like Gnostics of old, read the same texts and attend the same meetings as themajority while secretly coming to radically different conclusions. This is not just an LDSproblem; a majority of atheists are under the age of 35. But the literal and exclusiveclaims of Mormonism intensifies the tension between faith and knowledge.So how do we proceed? I hope that the Church will increasingly adopt an approach thatcontinues to provide the simple narratives that enable people to enjoy the practicalbenefits of their religion, but that they will also provide the framework for the morecomplicated reality. Given the ever increasing chance most people will come acrosspotentially troubling information, this preparation is vital. This is not to say that weshould throw the messy picture at everyone! Few if any would want their parents to sitdown with them and say “I just wanted to spend a few quality hours with you and tell youevery mistake I have ever made.” At the same time, it is critical we all understand ourparents are human, so when we come across that journal entry or story, we have theframework to handle it. My other hopes for the Church in general would be that thosefaithful who are trying to deal with the complex issues be seen as resources rather thanbeing disciplined or marginalized (hopefully this is not happening?) and that every3

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