A tangled web of mental workarounds

I’ve been a member of the church for 19 years, growing up in the church, serving a mission, marrying in the temple and believing sincerely and passionately in the truth of the Gospel for all of that time. I have not been perfect, I have not always obeyed all commandments, but considering my choices in the aggregate, overall I am confident to say that I have been a good, obedient member. Good but not perfect. Good but not necessarily always great either.

“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13) resonates with me.

If God is there, if He really exists, then He knows my heart, and that would be an immense comfort to me. But the fact that it’s comforting does not guarantee that it’s true. Nevertheless I’ve not yet closed the door on Him. Perhaps I never will fully close it.

In light of that premise, that He may be there and may know me, I approach some of my deepest intellectual questions and concerns with my religious experience.

Workarounds

A workaround is “Something that does not fix a problem but offers an alternative method to avoid it; usually a temporary solution”

In my months of personal introspection and analysis of my religious experience and paradigm, I’ve come to realise the immensity and complexity of an entire large network of mental workarounds and random rationalisations in place at the fringes of my religious knowledge and experience to “explain things” that could otherwise cause me doubt or confusion. They are workarounds that avoid cognitive dissonance.

Not until I went to the level of renovating my belief system did I start to genuinely perceive all of complex workarounds I have put in place. Like a body filled with injuries and a complex configuration of band-aids strapped onto every wound; still sane, indeed even functional faith, but those workarounds are now under serious scrutiny and review.

The purpose of my blog is not to question YOUR (the reader’s) faith, it’s to question MINE. I think that’s a very very important distinction. So as I ask questions and discuss workarounds, remember I am not talking to you about your belief, but perhaps with you about mine. Sure enough there will be overlap. But this is about my beliefs and workarounds.

Examples of Workarounds

Perhaps there is no better way to proceed in this discussion than to dive straight in to a bunch of workarounds that I have in place and critically analyse them. Some of these are based in personal experience and not formal church doctrine, some are doctrinal “workarounds” that are deeply established into our doctrinal framework.

I try to sincerely approach these, with scrutiny, scepticism, but not cynicism. The intent here is to ask sincere questions, not to “have the spirit of contention”.

The size of our spirits

In the Gospel Principles manual, chapter 41, it states:

“All spirits are in adult form. They were adults before their mortal existence, and they are in adult form after death, even if they die as infants or children (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith [1998], 131–32).”

Without looking deeply into different manuals, I could not find the exact formal reference, however I am absolutely certain I have heard multiple times in church that children have adult spirits housed within them (which is a logical inference from the above statement, saying that we have adult spirits at any age), and somehow the spirit is “squeezed” into a child’s body.

What does that even mean?

And if at age 18 I am 1.81 meters tall and at age 19 I am 1.82, does that mean my spirit grew too? How tall exactly is my spirit? When I pick up weight from eating too much ice cream is it growing fatter too? Is it stretching and contracting as I lift weights at the gym and as my muscles grow? When I grow old and become hunchbacked does my spirit hunch too? No matter what if you believe in an adult spirit with a static size then that spirit is constantly changing shape as our bodies change, even as adults.

This is a great example of how as we attempt to approach greater and greater precision in our understanding of things, faith simply becomes nebulous and unclear. The fringes of our faith lead to unanswerable questions. And that’s why I love science. In science you can ask specific questions, and nothing within the realm of natural science in principle beyond the reach of the scientific method (just heavily limited by our current science and paradigms). No limit to specificity!

So if a child has an adult’s spirit housed within their body, at which point did this adult spirit “get inserted”?

It’s our doctrine that abortion is wrong, and that babies within their mother’s womb are alive. Being alive by definition means the body is quickened by the spirit. – that means that when someone is pregnant they have two (or three (twins) or four (triplets)) spirits within their body? Or is the spirit inserted at birth?

If indeed babies have spirits within them pre-birth, then at which point did they get the spirit inserted? There is no specific, straight answer to this question (AFAIK). It is just “sometime” between conception and birth. But if it is truth then there must exist a specific (and perhaps highly nuanced) answer.

If the spirit is “inserted” upon conception, before the zygote forms, then do spermatozoa and eggs have spirits? If they do then everyday life is a mass spirit-slaughter. If a couple use a condom them they are guilty of spiritual massacre. Trillions of sperm and eggs are being wasted everyday (because life WAY overcompensates for probabilities.)

The answers to these questions don’t actually matter. Yes, I acknowledge that. It is true, the answers to these questions are beyond our reach, trivial, and unnecessary for our salvation (the usual fall-back response when we get into this realm) – however does that mean in principle all highly specific questions (questions that have reached a certain level of precision) are unreachable by the Gospel doctrine? If the Gospel is the source of all truth then how come it can’t answer (or even “acceptably” conjecture about) these more specific questions?

Hit and miss inspiration

Another highly relevant question is the area of so called “hit and miss” revelation.

Have you ever had an experience when you felt impressed strongly by the Spirit (perhaps multiple times) about something and it turned out you were wrong?

I have some examples that are too personal to share publicly, but I certainly have had very serious impressions from what I deemed to be the “Holy Ghost” about things that turned out to be flat-out wrong. Those often leave us in a tangled mess of confusing and conflicting thoughts (was I wrong? Did something go wrong? Was this other people’s agency? Etc.) – those contradictions and conflicts frequently require highly complex and intricate mental workarounds to keep us going (we have to work around an immense amount of cognitive dissonance).

I have two short, less personal examples from my mission:

The first was while I was in MTC. We went out to speak with people as GQ practice, right close to the end of the experience I felt impressed to speak with a lady, I walked over and she flat out rejected me.

“Sometimes the Spirit will impress you to do something because the Lord wants to test your obedience to His promptings” – said the MTC teacher after I asked him. OK great. I have a workaround. There are multiple other explanations we could put in place; that woman wasn’t ready yet. She will remember me and be contacted by the missionaries later (so called “planting seeds”, a workaround missionaries give themselves to comfort themselves that no effort is wasted as PMG says) etc..

In any case, the point of this article is to establish that I do have a complex web of mental workarounds in place, not talking about whether or not they are true workarounds (if they are true, then they should not be called “workarounds” but instead “explanations”). The fact that there are so many workarounds is conspicuous, yet indeed they could be explanations, they just feel more like workarounds.

The second was one day in my third area. I had a dream the night before about a certain area we should go tracting, I felt peaceful in the dream and took it as an impression to go to this area. So I told my companion and he agreed. We travelled there and tracted.

Nothing. Hardly anyone was home. It was a nice neighbourhood so people who have nice homes are generally working during the day.

There are a NUMBER of workarounds we could put in place to fix this. The first one is the “testing you” workaround – Heavenly Father was giving me promptings to test my obedience, OK no problem we’ve used that one before. Another one is that we could be seen by someone and that would be important. Another one is that this experience would be recalled by me 8 years later in this very blog and would help me process my spiritual journey, ultimately leading to stronger faith. Another one is that He was protecting us from harm which could have happened if we went elsewhere. These are all possible workarounds. The reality is, nothing happened as far as we can tell. Hopefully one of these is actually correct.

Yes, there are any number of possible explanations. But the simplest one that happens to explain a vast number of other things, is that there is no God, no Spirit, and no inspiration. And that’s why our so called “inspirations” are so hit and miss. Some of them work out, even highly mysteriously. Some of them cause great cognitive dissonance because they don’t work out, and some don’t work out but we just forget them, (or work out and we DO forget them) – all quite indistinguishable from random emotional noise (and pattern recognition and intuition as a faculties of the human mind).

This model coherently explains SO MUCH stuff that is otherwise very unclear, to name a few – why other religions have comparable spiritual experiences to our own, why people can live very happy lives without knowledge of the Gospel, and so so so much more.

Edit: I am currently working on “the spiritual theory of everything”, a model that attempts to explain both hit and miss revelation, other religions receiving revelation, atheism, and many other observations and information that’s been collected along the way. It is more favourable to belief than the last few sentences above.

Changes in the temple ordinance

Apparently the temple ordinance has changed somewhat since its inception in the time of Joseph Smith. Apparently not too long ago it used to have Adamic language as a part of it (“Pay Lay Ale” means “Oh God, hear the words of my mouth!”) coincidentally Adamic apparently uses English vowels and consonants, but this could be just a translation of Adamic into English (I guess).

Some sources also claim that the temple used to have severe penalties for revealing the content within the temple ordinance. Though I would not know this, my parents would because the so-called penalties were apparently removed in 1990, which included agreeing that “our throats be cut from ear to ear and our tongues torn out by their roots” (if true, that’s pretty gruesome, and genuinely disturbing).

Workaround: well we have continuing revelation, and so it’s OK that those “errors” (or imperfections or… or … or…) were cut out of the temple ordinance. There is also the possibility of the ordinance being “dumbed down” to make it more modern. Though these still pose problems because the baptismal ordinance has not changed in a long time. Ordinances are not supposed to change. Another possible workaround is the fact that the wording of the ordinance (*and possibly the language :P) has changed somewhat, but the core ordinance itself has not, thus preserving the actual “ordinance” part.

Again, this is not to say workarounds don’t work or they aren’t true, but when critically examined they genuinely appear to me to be workarounds and not explanations, and they are a tangled mess of mental rationalisation.

Not to mention the powerful connections between the temple ordinance and Masonry. That requires a whole complex set of workarounds in itself for everything to be kosher and is one of the major concerns for many people learning about the church. How is it that so much of the symbolism is the same? I’ve heard of some people creating some kind of very extended workaround with the ordinances somehow being “propagated” by Masonry from the formative Aaronic priesthood times until now. That’s quite the conspicuous workaround.

Ex-Mormons are not “truly” happy

Happiness or lack thereof is a very subjective thing. It’s impossible for us to completely perceive other’s happiness, even our own is unclear at times. Sure, from the outside we can see some manifestations of happiness, but what’s inside is inside.

We tell ourselves a story about ex-Mormons that they can’t truly be happy because they’ve disconnected themselves from the church. But this cannot be proven true or false. Really, I think it’s just a workaround in place to prevent us from leaving ourselves.

I’m sure there are some ex-Mormons who are genuinely happy about leaving. If you want a “workaround” that conforms to Mormon doctrine: say that they cannot abide by the higher law and need a lower law to be happy.

Other religions experiencing the Spirit

Edit: I’ve thought a lot about this in the subsequent weeks. Re-normalising what we mean by the statement “the church is true” and bringing it away from being absolutely true could provide a coherent solution to this… There are many statements even in the church to support this. “He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”

This is perhaps the most conspicuous area where we setup so many strange workarounds to explain the spiritual experiences of people in other religions.

I’ve done a lot of research and found that the descriptions of spiritual promptings that we often give are not unique, the fruits of the Spirit as found in Galations are frequently cited by various people of various faiths as they go about their life.

Possible workarounds:

  1. God loves everyone, so he gives them impressions. Again, perhaps he should inspire them to visit mormon.org so their souls can be ultimately saved, instead of egging them on in their own current “slightly true” religious orientations.
  2. All churches contain some truth and so when people do good they can’t help feeling good. This I feel is much closer to an accurate statement as it touches on the idea of independent principles that are discoverable by people anywhere regardless of knowledge of our faith. Edit: it could also cater for true doctrines in other churches. But really, again, why not send them to mormon.org?!
  3. The devil is complicating things and “being tricksy” – he’s deceiving all of these folks into feeling these feelings that are just like the Spirit, except not really, because only we have the real Spirit (There is a statement by Joseph Smith that the difference between us and other faiths is “the Holy Ghost” (Truman G Madsen lectures on Joseph Smith)). However I must point out I think this viewpoint is exceedingly arrogant and naive:
    1. I have spiritual impressions from God
    2. Other people also have spiritual impressions
    3. Anyone whose spiritual impressions are congruous (or at least compatible) with mine, are of God, and “true”.
    4. Anyone whose spiritual impressions are contradictory to mine must be being deceived of the devil.
    5. Therefore Mormons are receiving true testimonies of God and of the Spirit, and everyone else is receiving false testimonies of the devil.

The next step after that viewpoint is to turn around and declare religious war with people, it is just further along the line of bigotry. It is truly ignorant and reeks of hubris. Who am I to turn around and veto the spiritual impressions and experiences of others? Who am I to turn around and say other Christians have absolutely no experience or forgiveness from the “real Atonement” just because they haven’t been baptised by the proper authority?

“Salvation is an individual matter” Russel M. Nelson — if other people receive contradictory revelations from God, that really is God’s problem, not ours. Judge not, we simply have so little information to work off. If He’s the master and ruler of the universe, I reckon he knows what he’s doing giving folks spiritual revelation, even those who disagree with us.

Missionary work, everyone will hear the Gospel

It’s our doctrine that the Gospel will be heard by everyone in its fullness and they will have adequate opportunity to accept it. That’s a very thorough education that everyone is going to get.

This is certainly not going to happen in our lifetime or anytime soon. The likelihood that the church message will be heard by everyone even before the second coming is so slim. And then we have another workaround saying “but in the second coming there will be other faiths around too for a time”.

But we have another workaround: in the next life, they’re all gonna hear the Gospel message in its fullness, even if right now they just slam the door on us.

Actually, yes, then they will listen, even if they don’t care now. (Even though their spirits are the same in the next life as they are now).

Second coming prediction date

We very seldom quote these scriptures. But we often quote scriptures right next to them.

D&C 130:14-17:

14 I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following:

15 Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter.

16 I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face.

17 I believe the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time.

This one really needs a good workaround to solve for it.

  1. I thought no one could know the date of the second coming?
  2. It’s answered in the form of a counterfactual? That’s cool, so we can actually use those 😛 here we go with further philosophical questions!
  3. Anyway, I think verses 16-17 are immediate workarounds installed by Joseph himself to solve for the problem.

Plural marriage

Plural marriage was instituted among the church by the Lord through revelation to Joseph Smith. The church has revealed a formal statement about plural marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo — on lds.org.

Apparently “During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.” — Joseph Smith was threatened by an angel with a drawn sword  Whoa.

D&C 132 has some interesting scriptures in it. I don’t even HAVE mental workarounds installed for these yet because I learned about them after I began questioning my faith.

54 And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.

Actually this section has the word “destroy(ed)” in it 11 times. That’s a lot of destruction regarding plural marriage (not all would be in a negative context per se, one refers to death as the destruction of the body).

61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.

62 And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.

63 But if one or either of the ten virgins, after she is espoused, shall be with another man, she has committed adultery, and shall be destroyed; for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified.

64 And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, if any man have a wife, who holds the keys of this power, and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood, as pertaining to these things, then shall she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.

Meh, I don’t actually know what’s going on here. Ah, the golden days, when we could espouse ten virgins and it was OKAY with the church and the Lord. We were born in the wrong time in the church guys! (I just read these scriptures to my wife, followed by “you don’t mind me going and picking up a couple of virgins do you?” — chuckles).

But returning to a serious note. I genuinely don’t know what’s going on here guys. Not all of the wives taken in plural marriages in church history WERE virgins, some of them were already married or previously married when they were taken by as polygamous wives (polyandry). I’m not an expert, but I’ve looked up one reference that is very solid: Louisa Beaman, was married to Joseph Smith (possibly the first plural marriage wife) and apparently later married Brigham Young. Reference: Plural marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo and List of Joseph Smith’s wives. In fact that very list has a column stating “marital status at time of sealing” which indicates several of them were married at the time of marrying Joseph.

Lots of people, even members of the church, have issues with polygamy and polyandry. They were BOTH practised in the church for many years, and in a small sense continue to be practised at the current time with apostles and the like re-marrying and getting sealed to other woman after their first wives die. Polygamy is a reality in the history and present Mormon church, we have to deal with it, however hard that may be. I don’t know of the real answers. Lots of folks have lost their faith over this stuff.

I must point out the wording: “Latter-day Saints’ motives for plural marriage were often more religious than economic or romantic.” — this was not because of wars or other issues, this was because God commanded them to practice polygamy.

The bible translation not being fully correct

AOF 8 “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”

Simple question: if the Bible is not entirely correctly translated, which parts of it are not correctly translated?

Is it the parts that Joseph Smith had to revise? Problem: he never completed his inspired revision. In fact, this ensign article states:

“In view of the fact that the Prophet did not complete the work, and because the new translation is published and copyrighted by the Reorganized Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not accept it as authoritative, although it is read by many Latter-day Saints. While it is true that the Prophet intended to make additional changes in the new translation, we also recognize that one can benefit from the many improvements that he did make.”

So before I read that I didn’t actually know that the church does not fully recognise the revised edition. This leaves even more problems than I thought. It is both not fully translated correctly and we reject the inspired revisions from Joseph Smith then why do we quote from it at all?

The problem is that we do indeed quote from the Bible arbitrarily, completely at will. What if a part we quote in a talk was not translated correctly? General conference quotes from the bible?

Issues … issues … issues…

Conclusion

I genuinely could go on all day. I have many, many more questions and potential issues. But I won’t. I think the point is clear enough. Suffice it to say a few things:

  1. There are A LOT of issues with the history of the church and with its doctrines. Let’s just be honest about that.
  2. We tend to install mental workarounds with these issues so as to avoid cognitive dissonance.
  3. The very existence of these mental workarounds to me is suspicious and conspicuous.
  4. However, it is possible real answers and real explanations exist somewhere that “come out well” for the church in the end.

But I no longer find myself in a position to “defend the faith” so to say. I know there are unresolved issues, and I think that we should start to face them honestly and with open minds and hearts. Our integrity requires us to be straightforward and honest about this stuff, instead of trying to cover it up. I am not ashamed, I am not embarrassed. Forget fearing them. There may be answers, there may not. But we should be loyal to truth, whatever it may be.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The mosaic of apologetics | Shawn's Odyssey

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *