This is part 1 of a 4-part series that will follow over the next few months.
Words on a page! Some words seem like antonyms while others seem connected but, how? Is there such a thing as absolute truth? Is certainty possible or only a hopeful claim? Does belief demand evidence before it is proffered? Is doubt a necessary part of questioning or questioning part of doubt? Is faith a lazy substitute for knowledge or something entirely different?
The content of this article can be found in video format at the bottom of the text. We will first deconstruct the concept of certainty, of knowing truth, insisting though, that it is the pursuit of certainty that is vital. Then in a second video, part 2, we will explore the tools by which we pursue knowledge and their limitations and potential. In yet a third video, part 3, we will discuss a rational empirical approach for the use of faith as a tool in the pursuit of knowledge, allowing skepticism and avoiding self-deception. In a final video, part 4, we will examine how to more effectively use the tool of faith to tap its potential power experientially.
“Expectation can be a trust thief or an exercise of faith.” Doesn’t faith demand that a hoped-for result be expected? Yet certainly if one expects one thing and gets another, trust can be destroyed!
In a recent podcast by “Leading Saints[i],” Leo Winegar from Facebook.com/Uplift, shared stats from the last public survey on the question of, “why are people leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Many of its results were common to all other Christian Churches. The answers were many, but they seemed to have “dashed expectation” as a common thread. His group offers support to those slogging through the negativity of faith crises no matter the source.
There are many such organizations that offer answers and support to those actually seeking answers to explain the cognitive dissonance that drives so many into depression instead of research such as www.FairLatter-daySaints.org or http://leadingsaints.org/ with their library called “Questioning Saints.”
One day back in the sixties or seventies, a Japanese newspaper photographer was taking pictures of Mount Fuji, in Japan. After a day of It, he returned to his lab to develop the pictures. To his surprise, as he watched the image of one of the snowfield photos emerge from the solution, he found himself so deeply moved with the loving facial image of Jesus Christ that he converted from his native religion to Christianity. I personally cut this story from the newspaper then had the photo reproduced by a copy artist. I have shown it to many students, some of whom still can’t see the image while others have also been moved by the loving visage. A digital overlay can help but the fact remains, it is a picture of melting snow.
When two or more people witness something, we might just call an event, each person forms their individual perception. That perception is followed by conclusions or judgements concerning what they witnessed. Their conclusions evoke feelings. As an example, let’s suppose that you were waiting for your significant other to arrive home. It is getting late and despite the TV program you are enjoying, you check you watch repeatedly. Suddenly you hear footsteps approaching. What personal feelings do the sounds of these footsteps cause? Relief or joy might be expected and normal. But let’s suppose that just before you hear the footsteps an info banner scrolls across the screen warning you of an escaped, armed, and dangerous convict in your neighborhood. Then you hear the footsteps. Though the sound is identical the feelings aren’t. Were the feelings really caused by the footsteps? Despite how many times you might have accused someone of making you mad or sad, etc. The meaning is never in the footsteps or the environment or the other person. The meaning is always in you! It is those feelings that motivate action. As your actions inform your behaviors, they aggregate to build the library from which your perceptions are drawn. And the cycle reenforces itself over time and repetition. As you can see, to change your or another’s perceptions would require more than just desire, or even attempts at persuasion. But there are two questions that can assist us in this perception cycle to avoid deception or unjust judgements: 1) Do I have all the information or data from credible sources? And 2) Are there any other possible conclusions I could draw?
As one author put it: “We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs, we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations.
Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow. I call this process belief-dependent realism, where our perceptions about reality are dependent on the beliefs that we hold about it. Reality exists independent of human minds, but our understanding of it depends upon the beliefs we hold at any given time.” We come to understand that we see the world, not as it is, but as WE are.
After all, if our world exists by divine design including moral agency, God could not force perception by proving His existence. Rather, He would hold Himself responsible to keep our alternatives balanced to that we have legitimate choices that then reveal the changing condition of our heart.[ii]
As generations form, they have been divided into groups, each with about 15-20 years of common experience and thereby sharing paradigms and values:
- Traditionalists were born before 1945
- Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964
- Gen X were born between 1965 and 1980
- Millennials were born between 1981 and 1997
- Gen Z were born after 1998
Though there is no hard and fast boundary between these groupings they do offer some help in understanding their influence and how to influence them.
For example, here are some facts revealed in a 2013 survey, the last one I could find posted that revealed social science research: [iii]
- For Latter-day Saints born between 1956-1970 (Traditionalists and early Gen X’ers) 71.2% stay in the faith. But, looking at those born between 1971-1994 (Later Gen X’ers and Millennials), the Faith’s loyalty rate declines to 61.2%. This was a 10% decline between these age groups.
- Latter-day Saints have high rates of loyalty in generations born before 1971 but in the youngest cohorts, loyalty drops to 61% and ranks them among the least loyal groups in the youngest generation.”
So why should we talk about doubt and mental maps? Here are a few reasons:
- The generations from 1971 to the present (Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z) are leaving the Church at alarming rates.
- A significant portion are leaving because of issues related to doubt generated by differing understood values.
- These generations are more susceptible to doubt and
- Older generations (Traditionalists and Boomers) are ill prepared to effectively minister to the younger generations.
Ministering or assisting someone from another generation requires an ability to temporarily shift paradigms and see things as they do. For example, here are two different paradigms about roses. How to help each understand the other is always our challenge. Let’s experience shifting paradigms to better understand the process.
- Please read the words as fast as you can.
- Now say the colors as fast as you can.
If you are like most of us the second was slower and more difficult. It is not easy to shift paradigms. Stephen Covey, famous author, and business consultant said, “Every break-through begins with a break-with.”
As we have seen in the perception cycle, our values, our conclusions, our beliefs about life come from our life experiences and associations. Carefully study this sample of the life-realities of each generation. You might notice that:
- Traditionalists have become urbanized having moved from the farm
- The Boomer generation is introduced to the personal computer, but few learned to program them.
- GenX get the internet and Mobile phone and are blown into an information age without knowledge on how to filter, a skill that they don’t learn either.
- Millennials enter a computer world with Google and Facebook. Theirs is a new unfiltered social age subject to bullying and driven by social opinion.
- GenZ adds tablets and social and digital gaming to their toolset. Screen addiction in the pursuit of pleasure and entertainment, becomes a concern.
- Correlated with the marriage index one might ask if the resultant self-centeredness that the virtual realities have introduced are disabling people’s capacity to successfully raise families, especially when the loyalty index drops after the boomers.
- If part of one’s sense of security resulting from the social bonding experienced in professional organizations, job, church, community organizations and marriage, is replaced by the security from the shallow promise of infinite self-fulfilling options then loyalty dissolution seems natural, though dangerous. With the loss of loyalty comes the loss of interpersonal trust, which carries with it a loss of faith in each other and the divine.
- Is the expansion of information access and consequent ballooning of both the need to choose and the number of choices in the multiplying menu of options, overwhelming the skill set needed to manage agency?
With each generation speaking from their own paradigm as if it were actual reality, it is no wonder that inter-generational support which allows one generation to stand on the shoulders of the past generations and share wisdom, which is more than knowledge, has become a labeling, finger-pointing, accusatory non-support, resulting in a rise of mental illness and loss of confidence in a hopeful, happy future.
It is interesting that even under a reported divine influence this is what paradigm shifting apparently requires:
“The dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul.“ Book of Mormon, Alma 19:6
- It is interesting to note that unbelief is portrayed as a dark veil or cloud of darkness (in part 3 we will see that even when using the scientific method, perception can be clouded by preconception and bias. Choosing to believe, at least temporarily is essential to the empirical process.)
- But also note that “was being” would suggest that it is a process and not an event. Context helps us understand that the process lasted three days and nights and resulted in more than just a different way of understanding, it resulted in joy…
- a new way of feeling and knowing things beyond mortal senses.
Even Atheist and physicist Stephen Hawking legitimized the need to understand differing paradigms, a process often called reframing. He said,
“To deal with such paradoxes (between experience and physics) we shall adopt an approach that we call model-dependent realism. It is based on the idea that our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world. When such a model is successful explaining events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements and concepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth. But there may be different ways in which one could model the same physical situation, with each employing different fundamental elements and concepts. If two such physical theories or models accurately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other; rather, we are free to use whichever model is most convenient…it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation. If there are two models that both agree with observation… then one cannot say that one is more real than another.”
For many of us, as we think church, a whole flood of expectations enters our minds because of the model-dependent reality we assume is the truth. For traditionalist and boomers, it is a beautiful gallery of neatly framed answers and doctrines, principles that govern our lives and fill us with hope for a future beyond mortality. But to the GenX and millennials who don’t appreciate the brushstrokes or understand the impressionistic symbols of our framed artwork, church becomes repulsive and doctrine complicated. The anthropomorphic Godhead may seem repugnant and tithing, simply evidence of business motives and even exploitation.
A different paradigm or model might evoke totally different expectations and conclusions. What if the church were seen as a hospital, where all present, were both patients and staff each suffering from something and each called to give care and relief to each other? It would be a place where we serve as each other’s clinical material, and we were comfortable with others knowing that we needed and welcomed help. It would produce a different unity with less pretense to perfection.
In fact, we could then see that in learning eternal truth,
- the process is often more important than the product.
- Can you imagine standing at a final judgment all prepared to show your brilliant and thoroughly marked set of scriptures or your database of gospel answers as your evidence of a well-spent mortality? Perhaps Christ’s Sermon on the Mount response to those presenting their service and miracle portfolio, of “Get thee far from me for you never knew me” comes to mind.
- DC 76, speaking of things difficult to understand explains: “They are only to be seen and understood… through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, that they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory.” (DC 76:116, 118) It seems that the process of receiving, transforms us more than that which we receive. It is that transformation that prepares us to live in the glorious presence of Father.
- Afterall, even the best database would contain only childish understandings or models of what is real and eternal.
“How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways.” Jacob 4:8
- Joseph Smith explained that “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.” (HC 6:50) Note again that selection of “all.”
- He then, from personal experience explained the real goal of our mortal homework, ““The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God!” (Joseph Smith; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.137) This communion juxtaposes our humble willing self with the powerful transformative influence of the divine presence.
The solution to more doubt about the unseen spiritual realm is more information, but from what source? Why the only source available who knows the future, God. Armed with an internet full of information, a lack of patience, low loyalty, and a hefty price to pay, many are electing to just walk away unless someone can provide what they so desperately need. But distancing yourself from the Kingdom of God during a trial of your faith, is like escaping the furnace in search of comfort before you have become the diamond of your potential. It is like giving up on electricity after several bad experiences with dead light bulbs or a frayed cord.
Truth, after all, “is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.“ See Doctrine and Covenants 93:24 “ Things as they are” represents the present and we have seen in this presentation that we are all barely learning to see beyond our own paradigms and incomplete maps. “Things as they were” represent the past which is even more difficult to know as we puzzle the biases of past paradigms. “Things as they are to come” represents the future. The future is beyond any of our ability to know. We can predict or assign probability, but to know it requires that it become the present…oh wait, we can’t even know that absolutely. Can we? Stay tuned for the next part.
[ii] Paraphrase of Church leader, Elder Bruce C. Hafen speaking at the Institute adjacent to The University of Utah