“It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” D&C 131:6
“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” James Madison
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden
Can you imagine what it was like for Eve, once she had partaken of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, to approach Adam? Her mind was opening up to so many more possibilities; the world outside the garden, the ability to choose between good and evil, the knowledge of “the Gods”. A massive vista had opened up before her and so she approached Adam.
Think about how difficult communication must have become for the two of them after that event. Here you have it; one innocent, child-like Adam who is only interested in obedience, who knows nothing of good and evil, and Eve, the one who partook of the fruit — who recognises Satan in the garden, who recognises the necessity of leaving the garden to “fulfil all of Father’s commandments” and now understands so much more.
It’s little wonder she repeated the same sales pitch she’d received: “It is delicious to the taste and very desirable” — how else do you convince someone who just doesn’t know what you know? How do you reach out to them? How do you connect? Not until Adam himself ate the fruit would he truly understand Eve.
I don’t believe in the literal story of Adam and Eve, and so from my perspective the Mormon narrative of the story is as credible or good as any other — since it is the most familiar to me and most likely to connect with my LDS friends I use that narrative.
Notwithstanding, it is a beautiful story with a beautiful metaphor.
Now we look at the irony. There are two characters in this story, the Adam, and the Eve. Both think they’re right and both have fully legitimate worldviews in light of the knowledge they’ve acquired.
However, one has taken the difficult and courageous step to go forward and acquire more knowledge; for Eve, curiosity and courage overcame fear. For Adam, he needed the nudge, but came right anyway. I like how the Mormon narrative celebrates the courage of Eve in taking this step, this resonates with me.
I have partaken of this fruit, and see the world completely differently
The result of partaking of the bittersweet fruit of knowledge is permanent change. Now that I have fully jumped down, around and explored the rabbit hole or Pandora’s box of LDS church history, other religious doctrines, atheism and so forth;
I feel as unable to change my viewpoint as Eve after she’d partaken of the fruit
This journey has changed my life forever.
I have had various LDS friends communicate a sentiment that they feel I will come back to full, practising and participating LDS belief. I look at them with compassion and love; I know they have the best intentions at heart. But I feel as though I were Eve, just finished partaking of the fruit of knowledge and having this entire vista opened up to me, only to have Adam say: “I feel you will come back to innocence in the garden of Eden”. It is that stark, it is that real.
The psychologist James Fowler described his 6 stages of faith, the “Synthetic-Conventional” phase describes what in simpler words means “Orthodox belief”. It means a worldview that involves a literal belief of religious dogma. For many years of my life that is where I lived. But my faith transition moved me forward. The “faith crisis” phase is the individuative-reflective stage, where we begin to see “out of the box” and critically examine our own faith, this process can culminate in stage 6.
Now, some LDS people land up in a “LDS stage 6” — a more metaphorical, liberal, sophisticated, nuanced or moderate worldview. In a previous article I have described why this doesn’t work for me.
I know my LDS friends might criticise my examples. They’ll see my perspective and think it’s wrong. I get it. I understand. But I’ll share anyway.
1: Recent Missionary spiritual thought: Faith precedes the miracle
Just yesterday evening I hung out with some LDS friends, the missionaries were over and shared a spiritual thought.
They shared how “faith precedes the miracle” and “there can be no miracles without faith” — and we shouldn’t expect a miracle to happen unless we first have faith.
This was very poignant for me, considering the many many times I prayed, in faith, for a miracle during my faith transition. I know I had faith, and I sincerely believed God would answer my prayers. No answer ever came. The blame is now back on me.
Subsequent to this difficult journey I spent an extensive amount of time studying other religions, studying cults, studying recruitment tactics, studying psychology. The process of “faith preceding a miracle” can be very well explained psychologically:
Faith requires that we believe something strongly and take subsequent action. “The miracle” describes something that happens as a result which further reinforces our faith.
Steven Hassan explains in his book about cults how cults use a similar method to indoctrinate those who they recruit. They ask them to first believe, take action, and see the fruits of their actions. The way the mind works is that when we take certain actions that are not in accordance with our current belief system, this causes a certain amount of cognitive dissonance. Our beliefs adjust as a result, to reduce the dissonance.
It’s reminiscent of the Dallin H. Oaks quote: “Another way to seek a testimony seems astonishing when compared with the methods of obtaining other knowledge. We gain or strengthen a testimony by bearing it. Someone even suggested that some testimonies are better gained on the feet bearing them than on the knees praying for them.” — as we repeat and repeat our testimonies to a wider and wider audience, our actions cause a shift in belief.
In a famous psychological experiment (the Stanford Prison Experiment), two groups of participants were given two distinct roles to play; prisoner and guard. Over time their behaviour began to strongly match the roles they were placed in, notwithstanding it not being their true identity. This experiment has been used to illustrate cognitive dissonance theory, specifically effort justification paradigm.
I’m not an expert at psychology. However, this model does explain far more of what I’ve observed about religious missionary work around the globe, as Mormons are far from the only folks who do this.
2: Read the Book of Mormon again
Naturally one of the things that LDS friends encourage me to do is to read the Book of Mormon again. I’ve read it 9 times in my life 🙂 I’ve read this book more than any other book, but in any case, OK.
Problem is as I read it I just keep bumping into issues. In order for religious texts to have any efficacy one has to dampen critical thinking abilities while one is reading. I think this is also part of the secret sauce that makes them powerful.
In Alma 18:9 : “And they said unto him: Behold, he is feeding thy horses. Now the king had commanded his servants, previous to the time of the watering of their flocks, that they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth to the land of Nephi; for there had been a great feast appointed at the land of Nephi, by the father of Lamoni, who was king over all the land.”
— uh oh. There is no evidence that horses existed on the American continent during the 2500-3000 year history of the BoM. Some apologists suggest “Horse” could be “Tapir”, but do Tapirs draw chariots? In any case, chariots themselves are also an anachronism:
Clark Wissler, the Curator of Ethnography at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, noted: “…we see that the prevailing mode of land transport in the New World was by human carrier. The wheel was unknown in pre-Columbian times.”
I actually really loved the story of Ammon when I was a believer. Now when I read this I feel like Eve; “I have partaken of this fruit” — there are certain things that you simply cannot unlearn, and once they’ve been learned the entire story unravels.
To carry the Book of Mormon thing further, it’s actually way worse than this. Just recently it was announced that a group of people are crowd-sourcing a project called Book of Mormon Origins — as this video explains, we have used software analysis to find 4grams and other similarities with the Book of Mormon and other existing texts of the time. Now, this crowd-sourced project aims to have people analyse the Book of Mormon verse by verse and find the most likely sources of some of the phraseology and content ideas.
It’s already been suggested that the Book of Mormon is a remix of at least the several existing books of the time:
- The first book of Napoleon
- The late war
- View of the Hebrews
- King James Bible
- 19th Century Protestant Material
And in Grant Palmer’s book Insider’s view of Mormon Origins he breaks down this analysis in sections of the Book of Mormon, explaining the variance and breaks in the textual style.
And now the Book of Mormon Origins project has been launched.
I wonder, when the Book of Mormon has literally been explained, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, in terms of sources right in Joseph Smith’s back yard, will it still be asserted that it is divine? Will people still ask me to read it again? 🙂
Maybe I should read it to participate in the project 🙂
Also — a never Mormon has done a full read of the book and analysed it from an atheist’s perspective. Very interesting. https://mybookofmormonpodcast.com/
We seek models of reality that have explanatory power. We gather data, and try to use logic and reason to build a model of reality in our minds. Even the choice of accepting a spiritual witness as divine is a logical choice.
My journey was, at its heart, quite simple; I gathered a large amount of data about the world around me, and sought out the most useful, most accurate model I could find. In other words, I sought the truth. This model has now been built and I find it has great explanatory power.
Does that mean it’s 100% accurate? Of course not — “all models are wrong, but some are useful”.
“I have partaken of this fruit, and by so doing shall be cast out”
Perfect Shawn. You’ve explained the journey for many of us in our crisis of faith. I love the Eve analogy and I than k you for showing me this example.