Mormon Blogs and the Search for Truth

I love to ponder, learn, share, and discuss.  I love when people challenge my beliefs in a way that stretches me to seek more deeply for understanding and helps me gain a greater vision of the possibilities and the truth.

I have always been this way and I know it is part of why I discovered the gospel of Jesus Christ and joined His Church.  If I did not desire truth and was not willing to change my mind about things, even things I deeply clung to, I would not be a member of the Church and I would not have the life I live today.

So, I appreciate when people share ideas and challenge each others’ understanding.  I think it is so valuable and so important.  I believe it to be necessary to truly become a Zion people.

Yet, there are some dangers that we need to keep in mind and be aware of:

1.  In looking at things intellectually we can sometimes lose the power of the simple, profound truths.

2.  In critically examining our own lives and ideas we can easily stray to criticizing and condemning others.

3.  This can lead to our own brand of self-righteousness.

4.  When we typify members of the Church in our thought and speech we are creating “-ites.”  As we exalt the -ites we identify ourselves with and put down the -ites we consider “others,” we are building walls that separate us from one another and greatly diminish our power to influence each other for good.

I have seen this happen to me.  I come from a very different world than many of my peers here in this Provo/BYU world.  As a convert I have a different culture than the norm deeply ingrained in me.  I treasure the perspective I have because of my variety of experience in culture and crowd.  I am proud of where I come from and who I am–as I would hope we would all feel.

I transferred from UC Berkeley to BYU while I was on my mission.  (I had joined the Church after my first year at Cal. ) Talk about the CULTURE SHOCK of a lifetime.  Even greater than from California to Portugal perhaps because I wasn’t so prepared for the differences.

I will write later about some of my experiences and the struggles I had and still have with the adjustment from regular person to Mormon and Northern California to Utah.  My worlds clashed and it’s still hard to figure out who I really am sometimes.

But what I want to share right now is that I have seen my tendency to judge and criticize a culture that is foreign to me.  I was enchanted by the differences in culture I experienced when I lived in South America and also in Portugal on my mission.  I treasured the people I met for who they were and rejoiced in the variety of God’s children.

Then I came to Utah to go to BYU.  I had the expectations of a convert of only a few years and of a very newly returned missionary.  My idealistic assumptions didn’t take long to come crashing down upon me.  It hurt.  It was disappointing.  It was confusing.  Probably mostly because I just wasn’t prepared for it and it caught me off guard.

I felt alone and different and wondered often who I really was.  In my insecurity and confusion I learned to condemn that which I wasn’t used to.  I handled the disillusionment by judging and criticizing a culture that was different from my own.  I created -ites in my mind and looked somewhat hopelessly to find my own -ites in this new world.

My point for now: Can we find a way to look at ourselves closely and honestly and yet not create -ites and not become self-righteous, even in our disdain for those we consider self-righteous?  Is there a way to humbly approach the truth without mocking each other?

Can we look at things and think carefully and critically and yet not stray from the simple gospel truths that bring joy and are a foundation for all truth?  Can we develop our intellect and yet keep our hearts involved in our search for truth?

Can we be confident in that which we have learned and yet still always feel and know that God knows more and trust Him wholeheartedly, even when we don’t understand?

Can we strive to understand and yet lean not unto our own understanding?

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5 Responses

  1. In your efforts not to judge and put down the “others”, don’t let that cloud your own judgement of which things you want to emulate and which things you want to avoid. You still have to “judge,” after-a-fashion, when deciding if what you see in the “others,” or their culture, is something you want to join/emulate or not.

    Not all components of all cultures have equal moral value. Some cultures offer us things which require our discernment of whether we wish to join-in or emulate that thing.

  2. Nice post, Erin.

    I think that you are right that this is a problem with a lot of LDS blogs (and blogs in general).

    There are many things I could say, but let me simply share this quote from Elder Robert S. Wood, in the April 2006 General Conference:

    Have we who have taken upon us the name of Christ slipped unknowingly into patterns of slander, evil speaking, and bitter stereotyping? Have personal or partisan or business or religious differences been translated into a kind of demonizing of those of different views? Do we pause to understand the seemingly different positions of others and seek, where possible, common ground?

    I recall that as a graduate student I wrote a critique of an important political philosopher. It was clear that I disagreed with him. My professor told me that my paper was good, but not good enough. Before you launch into your criticism, she said, you must first present the strongest case for the position you are opposing, one that the philosopher himself could accept. I redid the paper. I still had important differences with the philosopher, but I understood him better, and I saw the strengths and virtues, as well as limitations, of his belief. I learned a lesson that I’ve applied across the spectrum of my life.

    General Andrew Jackson, as he walked along the line at the Battle of New Orleans, said to his men, “Gentlemen, elevate your guns a little lower!” I think many of us need to elevate our “guns” a little lower. On the other hand, we need to raise the level of private and public discourse. We should avoid caricaturing the positions of others, constructing “straw men,” if you will, and casting unwarranted aspersions on their motivations and character. We need, as the Lord counseled, to uphold honest, wise, and good men and women wherever they are found and to recognize that there are “among all sects, parties, and denominations” those who are “kept from the truth [of the gospel] because they know not where to find it.” Would we hide that light because we have entered into the culture of slander, of stereotyping, of giving and seeking offense?

    It is far too easy sometimes to fall into a spirit of mockery and cynicism in dealing with those of contrary views. We demoralize or demean so as to bring others or their ideas in contempt. It is a primary tool of those who occupy the large and spacious building that Father Lehi saw in vision. Jude, the brother of Christ, warned that “there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.”

    The solution? “The House by the Side of the Road,” by Sam Walter Foss:

    There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
    In the place of their self-content;
    There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
    In a fellowless firmament;
    There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
    Where highways never ran–
    But let me live by the side of the road
    And be a friend to man.

    Let me live in a house by the side of the road
    Where the race of men go by–
    The men who are good and the men who are bad,
    As good and as bad as I.
    I would not sit in the scorner’s seat
    Nor hurl the cynic’s ban–
    Let me live in a house by the side of the road
    And be a friend to man.

    I see from my house by the side of the road
    By the side of the highway of life,
    The men who press with the ardor of hope,
    The men who are faint with the strife,
    But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
    Both parts of an infinite plan-
    Let me live in a house by the side of the road
    And be a friend to man.

    I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,
    And mountains of wearisome height;
    That the road passes on through the long afternoon
    And stretches away to the night.
    And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice
    And weep with the strangers that moan,
    Nor live in my house by the side of the road
    Like a man who dwells alone.

    Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
    Where the race of men go by–
    They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
    Wise, foolish — so am I.
    Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat,
    Or hurl the cynic’s ban?
    Let me live in my house by the side of the road
    And be a friend to man.

  3. Dennis,

    I LOVE that first quote. I think it is so humble and eloquent. I am going to read it again and ponder it a little more.

    And I really like the poem. I really like the idea of looking at others as as good and as bad, as we ourselves are.

    There is one thing about it, I’m not sure I really understand, though.

    Why can’t we be on the journey and also be a friend to man? If the pioneers were walking by would this man have picked up and followed them to Zion or just watched them go by?

    I like the idea of being a support to everyone. But I feel like that comes as we travel WITH them- even if for a very brief time- not by being onlookers to those who are actually making the journey.

    What do you think? Maybe I’m not really visualizing it right.

  4. Yes, I think that is very true Bookslinger.

    I only have 2 things to add.

    1. When there are things we decide we do not wish to join for moral reasons we can still be respectful of the people who live that way. If it is serious enough we may even feel the need to act in order to protect someone or something that may be in danger. Yet, we can still avoid lifting ourselves up in our own minds as superior.

    2. Some things are just different. There might be a chance to learn a traditional dance that isn’t something we are used to. What an opportunity- even though it’s totally new and we would never do it in our own world.

    Something I can equate to this is some of the social traditions of LDS Utah culture that are foreign to me. Maybe it doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s still an opportunity to make my life more rich and try another way of doing things just for the sake of participating. And pretty soon, I may come to love it and adopt it as my own.

    Some things I can think of specifically:

    “Group dates”
    FHE and the traditions that go along with it here
    Church dances
    The idea of “dating” more than one person at the same time
    The way single people and married people interact

    One example is the way we talk with each other about dating. I went home a few years ago and was talking to an older brother of one of my good friends. He said something about his girlfriend and without even thinking I asked how long they’ve been together and if it was serious.

    TOTALLY normal for a casual, impersonal conversation here Provo. NOT totally normal in non LDS northern California setting. He just gave me weird look, acted a little irritated and I can’t remember what he said. I felt dumb because I hadn’t been prying and it’s not like it was really even that important to me- I just said it out of habit because that’s the way things happen so often here.

    Almost all my examples have to do with dating. I wonder why that is. I’ll have to think about that.

  5. And I guess that last example wasn’t really about making my life richer as much as just playing the game by the local rules. It doesn’t have to do with changing who I am- it’s just finding the way to relate to people that they understand and are comfortable with.

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