We have a right to question

When I was younger I once played a fun puzzle type role-playing game called Abe’s Exoddus.

In this game there is a scene that thankfully some random guy put on YouTube so we can all see:

In this scene the “innocent guy” characters of Oddworld (mudokons) face this new kind of drink that is being created by the bad guys (it’s an addictive brew like alcohol).

One of them asks: “Well, what is it?”

To which the evil glukkon replies “Don’t think! Drink!”

He hesitates for a moment, then the glukkon persuades him “Aaa, comeon, do it!”

He drinks and gets addicted.

Childlike gullibility; a virtue and a vice

Children have an intrinsic gullibility. I think this is a very important survival trait. Children are pre-programmed to believe their parents rapidly. This is an excellent trait because if children tried to figure out whether to jump off the cliff for themselves in each successive generation we never would have gotten this fair. Gullibility of youngsters is an excellent evolutionary advantage.

Recently I was meeting with a friend about my personal journey and he counselled me to be childlike in order to receive revelation. I like his counsel and in an effort to properly adhere to it I must put some thought into what exactly that means.

You see as we were talking we were discussing what makes children childlike. “They believe easily” my friend advised. I thought about this for a moment and cautiously responded “So do the Islamic extremists who want to blow me up. I wish they would be less childlike. I wish as they grew up they would be less gullible”. Naturally we could argue that they are not childlike in the innocent sense, which should accompany the willingness to believe. Blowing other people up is not an innocent person’s passtime.

Fascinatingly children ask many questions. Not out of rebellion but out of pure curiosity. They simply want to know more about the world out there and their curiosity is unabated until they start to go through our formal education systems 🙂

So I think it’s important to discuss somewhat the relationship between belief, being childlike and asking questions.

Children are easily deceived and easily manipulated. The phrase “stealing candy from a baby” comes to mind.

I sincerely don’t believe that if there is a God, that he expects us to be blindly gullible. Such gullibility would do more harm than good as people blow to and fro with “every wind of doctrine”. I think he expects us to believe and have faith within the bounds of good reason (“mind and heart”).

We have a right to ask questions

I believe more than just having a right to ask questions, we are encouraged to by God. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” James 1:5. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:” Matt 7:7 seem like very clear invitations to ask questions.

Attitude in asking questions is a critical component.

  1. The first thing I think we should shed while asking questions is any cynicism. If there is a God and if the Holy Ghost is real then I’d guess they don’t appreciate approaching them with negativity. When children ask questions they simply want to know the answers, they don’t ask them with ulterior motives or doubtful hearts. I think cynicism shuts down our ability to ask sincere questions as we cloud our judgement with negative bias.
  2. The second thing we should shed is an entitlement mentality. None of us is entitled to any answers from any questions, especially from a higher being. When it comes to questions generally, we have to seek out the answers diligently. When it comes to spiritual questions, if there indeed is a God, it makes sense that he is a higher being and can really answer us whenever and however he wants. (Otherwise worded as “in his own way and in his own time”). This is quite inconvenient for those of us with burning questions but I guess we are meant to trust the wisdom of God.
  3. Sincerity, real intent, and faith in Christ are three properties mentioned in Moroni 10. Again, these only really apply if there is a God. But it makes sense that he’d want us to humbly approach his throne, submit to his will and ask with real intent.

I think we have a right to ask any question we want to. (I don’t see why I can’t ask “Who created God?” or “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?”– these are perfectly valid questions). I also think we have no rights whatsoever to receive answers to any of our questions.

Between these two extremes of “rights” is a huge gap for learning. A right to ask, but no rights to answers. In between those lies all of the progressing knowledge of the world.

Conclusion: Wise as serpents, yet harmless

“Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16

I think this is perhaps a more nuanced version of the invitation to be childlike. It specifies the innocence requirement, being “harmless”, but it also specifies a more adult version of that, to be “wise as serpents”.

I think this captures the essence of how we should approach questions: with a sincere heart, AND a sharp mind. We can’t find truth merely by being gullible, but we might be able to find it through faith and God’s mercy.

3 Comments

  1. robert

    “They simply want to know more about the world out there and their curiosity is unabated until they start to go through our formal education systems :-)” haha, love it!

    On taking candy from a baby, this; http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/videos/candy-from-a-baby/

    One of the lds talks I have on my ‘epistemology and ontology’ mp3 list is this one from Elder Caussé (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/10/even-a-child-can-understand?lang=eng). One thing he says is that “The Savior’s teachings are adapted to everyone.” Both to children and adults. I totally agree with you that our cognitive faculties can be used to search and find truth. A far too common way to view science is as direct access to reality, that reality just ‘shows itself’. I don’t think science ever actually does this, but it is viewed as doing this. Theories are always construed and argued, I don’t think it is ever self-evident. Also, if reality was so easily accessible, then why bother with experiments and all the work of science. I think a much better way to view science, which critical realism argues for, is that science is cognitive and physical work. Finding truth requires, generally, the active agency of scientists. A talk which talks about our agency in finding gospel truth is this one by Elder Bednar (https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/2013-02-1140-133-seek-learning-by-faith?lang=eng). One thing which I really like about the talk by Elder Caussé is that he adds the agency of God into the mix, that through His agency we learn, and He can share understanding with us which we might not otherwise get access to.

    I REALLY like your points about prayer, the method so to speak, especially number 1, that was very well put!

    “Between these two extremes of “rights” is a huge gap for learning. A right to ask, but no rights to answers. In between those lies all of the progressing knowledge of the world.” Again, very well said!

    And I also agree with the rest of what you say and like the way you put it 🙂

    Reply
    1. shawn (Post author)

      I love the taking candy from a baby stuff! Haha great!

      I shall add those talks to my pocket 🙂 In case you’ve not seen the app: https://getpocket.com/ — you can save stuff and it will download onto your devices for later reading.

      Thanks for all your comments!

      Reply
      1. robert

        I hadn’t heard of my pocket before, thanks!!!!

        Reply

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