Feast upon the Word Blog

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LDS Truth Absorption Latency

Posted by BrianJ on April 13, 2009

Yesterday at church someone said, “We have all the truth in the world right here in the LDS Church.” You and I have probably heard this kind of statement dozens of times. Part of the reason Mormons make such a bold claim is that we are anxious to accept anything that is true regardless of its source.

…or, at least, we claim that we are anxious to accept all truth:

That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy [1]

The prophets of the present dispensation…have championed the idea that the Latter-day Saints have no exclusive access to truth. God enlightens people everywhere…; insofar as other peoples have any principles of truth (and they do)… [2]

“Mormonism,” so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to “Mormonism.” The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. “Mormonism” includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods…

All knowledge and wisdom and every good that the heart of man can desire is within the circuit and circle of the faith we have embraced (DBY, 446).

It embraces every fact there is in the heavens and in the heaven of heavens—every fact there is upon the surface of the earth, in the bowels of the earth, and in the starry heavens; in fine, it embraces all truth there is in all the eternities of the Gods (DBY, 448). [3]

I think this is a healthy perspective, of course, but I would like to dispute the idea that “We have all the truth in the world right here in the LDS Church.” There are several problems, among which are:

  • “Having the truth” and “having a knowledge of the truth” are not the same. We might draw an analogy to the United States’ ownership of the land of the Louisiana Purchase versus its actual knowledge of that land: the value of mere ownership was infinitesimally small compared to the value of that land after exploration.
  • Being a member of a group that collectively has all the truth says nothing about how much truth I, the individual, have. Certainly it is advantageous to surround oneself with people in the know, but the protection that provides only goes so far. What access do I have to that collective truth, seeing that I don’t rely on the group to make all of my choices for me?
  • Every time I have heard this claim, it is used as a way of saying “Mormonism is the source of truth, the spring of knowledge.” Brigham et al paint a different portrait: Truth flows forth from God, spilling over the mountains and trickling down through various streams and aquifers, and eventually pools in the catch-basin we call “Mormonism.”
  • Saying that “We have all the truth” sounds an awful lot like “We already have all the truth”—and just to be clear, that sounds scarily like the biblical sufficiency fallacy in 2 Nephi 29:6. This attitude ignores—or even rejects—the way we received that truth in the first place: by looking outward. If we actually believe Brigham et al, then we have to accept that there is some truth that exists outside Mormonism because it has not yet been discovered by and assimilated into Mormonism.

And that last point brings me to the real point of this post, which is to discuss what I will call “LDS Truth Absorption Latency”: the time between when a truth is discovered/revealed on earth and when it is accepted by Latter-day Saints.

  1. Is this latency designed (and finely tuned) to provide the perfect balance between immediacy and selectivity, these two factors being inversely proportional? (i.e., greater immediacy allows some non-truths to rush in along with real truths, whereas increased selectivity makes some real truths linger around outside—maybe they even have to fight their way in.) Is it more beneficial to favor one side of that scale over the other?
  2. What factors affect the duration of latency? Generational: false beliefs die off with the old generation, etc.? Competing religions: pre-restoration Protestants like Luther experience reduced selectivity, but Protestants contemporary with or after the restoration (I’m looking at you, Evangelicals!) do not? Godless science: Shakespeare good, Darwin bad?
  3. Is this latency more just a learning curve? In other words, does it just take some time for individuals to learn and process new truths even though they accept them immediately? By analogy: a physiology major instantly accepts every word in his text book as true, but it takes (at least) the whole semester to absorb them.
  4. What is the difference in the rates of Truth Absorption versus Non-truth Rejection? Why is there a difference?
  5. Are there factors that tempt us to shut down the truth absorption process and adopt a “We already have it all/enough” stance?

_____________

[1] First Presidency, “Words in Season from the First Presidency”, Deseret Evening News, 1910-12-17, sec. 1, p. 3.

[2] Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Truth

[3] The last three paragraphs—and many more like them—are found in “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young”

15 Responses to “LDS Truth Absorption Latency”

  1. BrianJ said

    P.S. I realize there are all sorts of problems using the word “truth” in the presence of philosophers. I’ll just ask everyone to avoid making this into a Truth vs. truth vs. trUth (or whatever) debate.

  2. Clark said

    I tend to see it in terms of D&C 93 and the “grace for grace.” We have the path which leads to all truth. It’s like having an answer book to all the homework questions for a class. It doesn’t do any good unless you read it. So we have to distinguish between having knowledge of truth and having access to knowledge of truth. A distinction we ought be humble about.

  3. RuthS said

    If all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole (whatever that means) people assume that, like a bowl of green jello with chunks of pineapple in it,if they have a little truth swimming around in a sea of facts that everything in the mix is truth,just like everything in the jello is sweet.

    This of course is not true. We have a tendency to talk about all things without every defining what that means. We assume that we understand the words and each other. As a result there is a lot of misunderstanding. How comforting it must be to think that there is someplace where there is no uncertainty only absolutes.

    I think many people want truth to be a real pearl that they can get a hold on. That would make everyone, almost, feel a lot better.

  4. Your post makes me wonder what it means to “have” truth. Its a perplexing concept to me.

    As for accepting truth and rejecting non-truth. I think something later 20th century church history shows is that when ideology seeks theological justification the ideology itself can be understood as doctrine, and therefore becomes very difficult to reject. I look at the way church leaders held on to and defended white supremiest ideology during and after the civil rights era as an excellent example of this.

    The idea that false beliefs die off with the older generation has come up a few times in conversations lately but I admit that I find this an uncomfortable notion. It doesn’t seem right to suggest that some people need to die so that their false thinking will die with them. It’s not a view that has a very positive outlook on our ability to learn, grow and change when necessary or when prompted by the spirit or life experience.

  5. Jeremy said

    That is an interesting idea. If children learn differently/faster than adults, and we all have some freedom choose how we react to experiences, and therefore how we learn, it seems that in a large group, some adults may choose to lag behind, to not to adopt a “new” philosophy or idea. BrianJ discusses this above re latency in, say, a church. This lag provides some protection from a new fad misleading an entire group. The new idea gets tried out and has to survive for a generation or so. In a case like, say, Moses, then the group may have to wander for a few years until the old guard and old habits die out.

    • BrianJ said

      Jeremy, I wonder a lot about children learning faster than adults. Is it because children have some keen learning ability that dulls with age, or is it because adults have so much more to remember, so many other ideas to compare new ideas to.

  6. BrianJ said

    Clark: thanks.

    RuthS: as soon as you know what that “one whole” means, be sure to tell me!

    Douglas: Would you call the ideology/theology tension you’re talking about something like proof-texting? I’m not so sure that bad ideas only die off with the old generation; I know I wrote it in the post, but it was meant as an item of discussion and not me staking my claim. Thinking about it more, I even wonder if the opposite isn’t true to a large degree. I’ll get my disclaimers up front: I attended elders quorum in Utah and in a small branch (i.e., mostly very new members) in New York, then I attended high priest group in NY and now in WA. What have I noticed? The most “liberal” and “critical” discussions occur in the high priest group. Now why is that? I suspect—knowing these old men—that anybody who is still coming to church when he’s 60+ years old has already convinced himself that it is true. Thus, he can afford to be more critical because criticism doesn’t shake him. Many in the elders quorum, on the other hand, are still in the process of convincing themselves that it’s true—they have a testimony of many things but not all things and they are frequently confronted with problems they hadn’t considered before (like Joseph’s polygamy); these younger members are reluctant to venture into criticism, and are relatively inexperienced at reaching their own conclusions (having only recently left the tutelage of their parents or mission presidents). In turn, the older generation is reluctant to talk to the younger generation about all the bruises and scratches in the Church because they don’t want to burden them when their testimonies are still forming (e.g., you’d give a recent convert a copy of Hinckley’s book before you’d give him a copy of the new Mountain Meadows book). I don’t know how much water all of that will hold, but there it is.

  7. Brian,

    I think the ideology/theology synthesis is a strong motivator for proof-texting.

    Your elaboration on the different generations at church and how they think is interesting. I certainly have seen many members in their 20’s and 30’s who do not own their beliefs as their own. Most of what they say can often be recitations of standard ideas & language, which may support your thought.

  8. NathanG said

    Brian,
    I can’t say much for your current ward, but knowing people in the high priests group in NY ward, I’m not necessarily surprised that there was critical and liberal discussions (that being said I never sat through a high priest group meeting with you). I would wonder if going back to my home ward in Idaho, if there would be such a critical discussion, as people tend to be more conservative (again, I can only assume as I am not a high priest). My current ward had a slightly shell-shocked look on their face when I suggested things in a gospel doctrine lesson that were different than typical teaching, and that class is made up mainly of high priests and older relief society teachers as many of the younger adults are sequestered in callings that take them away from gospel doctrine.

  9. BrianJ said

    Nathan, some of the people in NY who you might think would have the very most conservative social and political views were the most open to alternative interpretations of doctrine. (I won’t name names in this public forum.) Perhaps your new ward was just shocked that someone with such a young cherub’s face would reach such profound conclusions.

  10. Clark said

    Brian:

    Jeremy, I wonder a lot about children learning faster than adults. Is it because children have some keen learning ability that dulls with age, or is it because adults have so much more to remember, so many other ideas to compare new ideas to.

    A big difference in kids is partially genetic and partially because so much of the brain is still being wired. So, for instance, your ability to learn languages after 8 is fundamentally different than before. And that is a physical difference in the brain.

    That said a lot of people downplay how much adults can learn. It’s just that most adults don’t “exercise” their brain. And they don’t bother to try and learn.

  11. BrianJ said

    Clark, I fully agree that adults can learn more than they are often given credit for. It’s just that most adults do not have the time to undertake massive learning.

    Part of my question was also about learning as it applies to accepting a new idea, not just knowing about the idea. There I think kids most often have the advantage because they don’t already have a competing idea or paradigm to overcome. And teenagers, well they just love throwing out “old” ideas whenever they can.

  12. CEH said

    Being a bit older (though not retirement age) and a high priest, I would like to propose that a certain amount of youth’s willingness to accept “new truth” is what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”, that is, the assumption that anything new is better or more correct. As we gain experience, we experience some of those new “truths” that are ultimately wrong, and develop a much more tempered “let’s wait and see what the fruits are” approach to new ideas.

    That being said, I have often wondered to what degree our general philosophy was determined by the fact that virtually all of the early church came from either extremely conservative (even puritan) early American church or Victorian England environments? Would the Church’s general philosophy have been different if it had formed elsewhere? Was our the development of our general moral philosphy (regarding work, pleasure, personal reward as well as sex) partially the result of the environment from which the early leaders came, or did God have a hand in the establishment of the puritanical and Victorian culture because it was more correct that anything that existed prior and laid the groundwork for the restoration?

    I teach High Priests in what is probably one of the most conservative areas you will find. Though I might sometimes push for the edges in trying to bring out the feelings of the group, there are some things which I wonder about that I wouldn’t bother bringing up in priesthood meeting. I think most Bishops are what I would call cautious more than conservative in their guidance on fringe questions. Why do we hear basically the same themes in every general conference? It’s because the general membership is so deficient in their practice of the basic tenets (in which group I include myself), that the leadership will not expand on other things.

    Basically, we are already responsible for the truths of the Book of Mormon, Temple covenants, etc. For most of us, these are enough to dig ourselves into condemnation. To grant us greater truth, for which we are ultimately unwilling to be accountable, would be a breach of their calling to “shepherd” us back.

  13. Mark D. said

    If you removed all the material from the D&C that taught informative rather than practical content, you would have one very small book. So the obvious question is if informative content is so superfluous due to deficiency in practice, why is it there in the first place?

    You might say the same thing about most of the content of Sunday School, Seminary, Institute, Articles of Faith, Jesus the Christ, Gospel Principles, and so on.

  14. Jim Siniscalchi said

    “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
    —Arthur Schopenhauer (German philosopher, 1788-1860)

    Our religion embraces chemistry; it embraces all the knowledge of the geologist, and then it goes a little further than their systems of argument, for the Lord almighty, its author, is the greatest chemist there is. [Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 15, pg. 127, 11 Aug 1872].

    Truth, I’d like to refer to as spiritual truth. For all things are spiritual to God.

    There needs to be an adequate and comprehensive understanding of the relationship of spiritual light to truth and to intelligence. For now I will just briefly expound on truth as I understand it.

    Spiritual truth is, by definition, that truth which is revealed to a person through the means of spiritual light, i.e., things they really were, really are, and really will be, as revealed through spiritual light. Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.

    This is important in the matter of truth; It is through spiritual light that the words of our God are delivered and recognized by LIFE as being authoritative, whereby Gods power is given effect.

    If truth is even slightly contaminated with opinion that is defective it is no longer truth. Truth must be totally pure and undefiled. The measuring instruments for truth are canonized scriptures. If something we regard as truth is in conflict with scripture there is a high probability that that which was tested is not truth. Spiritual light must be present.

    We may go further. Every person born into the earth has claim upon the assistance of the Spirit of God. That is a species of revelation. Consequently, all good achievements of man, in science, literature, or art, are the product of revelation. The knowledge and wisdom of earth have so come. [John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, Bookcraft, 1960, pg. 101].

    Said Karl G. Maeser, “I would rather have my child exposed to smallpox, typhus fever, cholera, or other malignant and deadly diseases than to the degrading influence of a corrupt teacher. It is infinitely better to take chances with an ignorant, but pure-minded teacher than with the greatest philosopher who is impure.”

    Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really care, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls. But behold, we are not witnesses alone in these things; for God also spake them unto prophets of old. (Jacob 4:13)

    D & C
    23 Ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth;

    24 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;

    25 And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.

    26 The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth;

    27 And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments.

    28 He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.

    29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.

    30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.

    31 Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.

    There is certainly need for doing real thinking, philosophy and ontology which seemingly are almost totally lacking in society. Although important and taken seriously, I prefer the word and spirit of God as my measuring gauge. Most people in our society are absorbed by television and games. Is society becoming therefore something less because of the lack of genuine intelligence?

    Truth is truth forever. Scientific truth cannot be theological lie. To the sane mind, theology and philosophy must harmonize. They have the common ground of truth on which to meet. [John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith as Scientist, originally published in 1908, Bookcraft, 1964, pg. 156].

    I believe also that with this flood of knowledge concerning these highly spiritual things, there has come into the world, almost imperceptibly, a more generally diffused and brighter spirit of intelligence than was known before; like collateral rays shooting off to right and left from the more direct light of God’s revelations which ushered in the great work of the last days. By those collateral rays of light men have been led to those great discoveries in the arts and sciences and in mechanics, which make our age so wonderful as an age of progress and enlightenment. [B. H. Roberts, LDS Conference Report, Oct 1903, pg. 73].

    There can never be conflict between true religion and scientific fact.

    True science is a discovery of the secret, immutable and eternal laws, by which the universe is governed; and when practically applied, sets in motion the mighty wheels of useful engines, with all the various machinery which genius has invented, or art contrived. It ameliorates the condition of man, by extending the means of intellectual, moral, social, and domestic happiness. [John Taylor, Times and Seasons, vol. 4, pg. 46, 15 Dec 1842].

    Among the popular errors of modern times, an opinion prevails that miracles are events which transpire contrary to the laws of nature, that they are effects without a cause. If such is the fact, then, there never has been a miracle, and there never will be one. The laws of nature are the laws of truth. Truth is unchangeable, and independent in its own sphere. A law of nature never has been broken. And it is an absolute impossibility that such law ever should be broken. [Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, 1891, pg. 102].

    The science of geography will then be extended to millions of worlds, and will embrace a knowledge of their physical features and boundaries, their resources, mineral and vegetable; their rivers, lakes, seas, continents and islands; the attainments of their inhabitants in the science of government; their progress in revealed religion; their employments, dress, manners, customs, etc. The science of astronomy will also be enlarged in proportion to the means of knowledge. System after system will rise to view in the vast field of research and exploration! Vast systems of suns and their attendant worlds, on which the eyes of Adam’s race, in their rudimental sphere, have never gazed, will then be contemplated, circumscribed, weighed in the balance of human thought, their circumference and diameter be ascertained, their relative distances understood. Their motions and revolutions, their times and laws, their hours, days, weeks, sabbaths, months, years, jubilees, centuries, millenniums and eternities, will all be told in the volumes of science. [Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, 1891, pg. 161-162].

    I testify that wickedness is rapidly expanding in every segment of our society. (See D&C 1:14–16; D&C 84:49–53.) It is more highly organized, more cleverly disguised, and more powerfully promoted than ever before. Secret combinations lusting for power, gain, and glory are flourishing. A secret combination that seeks to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries is increasing its evil influence and control over America and the entire world. (See Ether 8:18–25.) These are words spoken by a prophet of God. If this was true then, is it still true today?

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