Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Threat Within

In the past, my brother’s and my topics of choice varied considerably for this blog. Generally, he addresses the social issues surrounding the Gospel and the Church, while I address the doctrinal. However, stimulated by the comments of someone on both my brother’s and my earlier postings, I believe I will tackle a social topic. This person, only known as Jeremy, gave forceful, though amazingly vague criticisms of my brother’s and my writings (attacking our interpretations of th Fall, anti-Mormon literature, our relationship with God, our views of our leaders, etc.). Instead of really criticizing with any meaning, he instead contributed an idea.

Satan has used many methods to defeat the purposes of God. Using the sensationalistic, tabloid-like methods of J. Edward Decker (The Godmakers) can frighten people away with its claims. They become so scared of Mormons that their ignorance of the religion prevents any rational learning about it. Others, like Jerald and Sandra Tanner (Mormonism, Shadow or Reality), take a more conservative and scholarly approach, giving their own slant or interpretations to the words and events in Church history. But those are professional anti-Mormons. Are there others? Well, Signature Books is an interesting publishing company, who bring forth the works of people like D. Michael Quinn (Early Mormonism and the Magic World View). These take the approach that the official Church history is replete with errors, assumptions, deletions, and changes. Contributing authors are from the Mormon and non-Mormon camps. They take it upon themselves to rectify the Church’s faulty history through their scholarly means.

How do I feel about these different people and their writings? They can be very damaging to the faith to be sure. Ed Decker, to me, is without any credit. Even most anti-Mormons denounce his work, as they feel he damages their crusade more than he helps. The Tanners bring some interesting documents to light, bring up interesting points, and really can enlighten us to things we may have turned a blind eye to. However, as I said, they do a great deal to twist interpretations to the ways they see them. To write without bias is impossible, but it’s as if they don’t trust their readers to draw the “right” conclusions for themselves. Therefore, they tell you how you are supposed to take their exposures. Writers in the vein of Signature Books are dangerous as well. Good scholarly research is a valuable thing. It’s good to see what aspects of history we may be lacking. Who here knows that Joseph Smith had a Council of 50, his political council that even had non-Mormons in its ranks? Signature Books authors bring the details of such things to light. But these authors are not concerned with building faith. They will point out that Church leaders have made mistakes (something that many in the Church refuse to believe), and they go on a purely historical basis. In other words, they address the issues of Church history as if it was not inspired (whether they believe it or not), and target an audience that assumes the same. They use complete historical context, and not necessarily in an unbiased way. They present ideas that even they know might not be true, but they present them as true. Such things can also destroy faith, if we are to assume that Church history was shaped entirely by surroundings and not by the will of God.

But do the things that destroy faith always come from without? Or are there those forces that can come from within?

My recent experience has driven me to comment on certain personality traits of those within the Church. Many of us can assume stances of this nature at one point or another. Some of us may only carry one or two of these attributes, yet others of us may be permeated with these dangerous views and jeopardize our own salvation. But the great Deceiver may make use of those who are “extra-righteous” within the Church as those who deliberately seek its downfall.

A serious flaw within many members is a feeling of great doctrinal knowledge. They have studied the scriptures for years, have read books like Jesus the Christ, have argued in their high priests group (okay, there are many other forums of debate, but this seems to be a popular choice), and feel they have a supreme understanding of the Church and its doctrines. Though I am highly in favor of seeking knowledge about the gospel, these people seem to take a very a very condescending view towards those “of little faith,” or “the babes in the gospel.” They take it upon themselves to correct all the “false doctrine” they see out there, and call those wicked perpetrators to repentance. These spiritual vigilantes should beware of such an attitude. There are a number of pitfalls in there path.

First, they can become very caught up in pride. Some may feel they know so much about the gospel that they can call their bishop in for an interview. There are a number of falls from pride, well addressed elsewhere. Suffice it to say that humility is a hard thing to maintain, no matter our strengths and weaknesses. With greater knowledge comes a greater responsibility to disseminate such knowledge appropriately and in humility.

Second, these views of one’s greatness can alienate him/herself from others within the Church, and even outside. He or she might start looking at those beneath him as unworthy. They become judgmental, critical, and find themselves saying things that may hurt others. They may teach the principle that everyone is a child of God using a dozen different sources, and forget what such a principle really means. They begin treating them as lesser mortals.

Third, they seem to forget that we know so little about the gospel. If David O. McKay can say, referring to the endowment shortly before his death "I think I'm finally beginning to understand," I believe it is safe to say we all fall short of complete knowledge of the gospel. Though numerous doctrines are solid, not everything is set in stone. There is plenty of flexibility of interpretation. Someone whose opinion differs from yours needn’t be considered a threat to the Church or oneself. The gospel is a learning experience for all of us, and you might be wrong about a few things, yet, you probably won’t discover most truths until you’ve passed into the next life. Right or wrong, it often isn’t essential to our salvation, and we don’t need to always present our views as if we have cornered the market on proper understanding.

Fourth, a person so stiff in his interpretations may end up apostatizing. A belief that the prophets are infallible, for instance, is not only rubbish, but can be quite detrimental. Most everyone must come to an understanding that their leaders are not demigods. Moses made mistakes, and couldn’t enter Canaan. Jonah disobeyed God, and received solitary confinement (so to speak) for his defiance. Joseph Smith drank wine on occasion. Brigham Young sometimes taught Adam was God. Bruce R. McConkie said blacks would not receive the priesthood before the Second Coming. We must trust our leaders, and we have the promise that we won’t be led astray. Yet, when Pres. Hinckley or Elder Nelson does something that exposes his humanity, such as an incorrect statement or teaching, we must be wise enough to acknowledge that humanity while maintaining our trust in that leader’s inspiration. We cannot afford to be naïve about this fact. Many have fallen away from the Church because they expected more out of their leaders.

Taking that matter further, a number of former members have figured that they knew everything more than their neighbor about the gospel of Christ. They have done so much “research” that they ultimately conclude that they are the elect of God. There are seriously a number of churches that have splintered from the truth simply because they believed that God had called a new prophet out of his proper order. You can see a list of the various splinter groups here. These are all that we have managed to catalogue with any significant information on the Web. This list is by no means an exhaustive list of all splinter groups. Though cases like these may be extreme, one must still be cautious as he grows in knowledge. Again, responsibility and humility must prevail.

Fifth, they thwart any intelligent investigation of the gospel. As the Church has aged, so has its understanding. Our understanding of ancient America has changed in even the past decade. To shun new ideas or interpretations is foolish and narrow-minded. Many of these greater understandings are due to those willing to defend the Church. And those who defend must know what the critics are saying. True, it is unwise for most to read anti-Mormon literature. I wouldn’t recommend it to most. Some leaders have even termed it “spiritual pornography.” But the Church cannot possibly be wholly against it. FARMS is a branch of BYU, the Church’s university. This group is very studious, learning great things about the archaeology of the Book of Mormon and Christianity in general. They also devote work to defending the faith against the “anti” clans.

If one ventures into the minefields of anti-Mormon studies, he or she must enter with faith. An understanding that the opposition is strong, with balanced studies on defense is essential. But again, most key is intense faith, because questions will arise, some that may not get answered in this life.

As a final note, these people must realize that not all the damage they can cause will be self-inflicted. They can drive potential investigators away as self-righteous attitudes are perceived. They can set up false expectations in fellow members. They might offend others and drive them to inactivity. They may actually instill the same views in others, who then are subject to the same potential downfalls I’ve already enumerated.

The blessings of God are not for the wise. Though wisdom is a virtue, it is not the key. Such blessings are for the humble.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

How prevelant do you think this is today? I wonder if this type of pride is associated with monetary $ pride and riches. So many people read and get through the scriptures w/o the sciptures ever getting through to them. Solutions? My solution would be for leaders to take action and stop the prideful from making cutting comments or being know-it-all bullies in church classes with their spiritually superficial yet pharacitical accounting of the minutia. I wish that somehow they'd be cut down to size and chastened for their meanness.(Can you tell I'm a ticked off about it?) Sometimes I think I'm the only one who is annoyed by it, as many of these people are also highly respected in the wards.
-J.A.T.

darth_ender said...

I'm not certain how widespread this problem is. Taking a more objective viewpoint than I did when I wrote this, I'm sure I (as well as virtually everyone else in the Church) has assumed this role more than once. We all can often feel that we are serving the Lord in the best way possible, and look down on others for their "inferior" methods/goals/motivation. I was certainly irritated and frustrated myself at the time of writing this post. But I think the truth is that we've all been chastized before, and we simply refuse to hear it. Our problem is pride, and we've heard many wonderful sermons, including the master "Beware of Pride" by Exra Taft Benson. But we all refuse to believe that we need to work on improving ourselves. We all look to others and find where they need improvement. I suppose even this particular essay could make me guilty of this sin. So forgive me of such a crime, and I pray that we all do our best to avoid succumbing to it as well.

darth_ender said...

I should add one more thing (and it isn't simply to make it look like this otherwise unpopular post look more popular). I feel I should apologize to Jeremy. Though I was irritated, I should not have made such a rude essay that probably felt like it was directly aimed at him. He is welcome to his opinions, and should have a safe haven to post them here, no matter how greatly I disagree. I doubt he will ever be back and read this comment, but there's always hoping. The more I think about it, the more I realize this essay was describing my very attitude at the time. I suppose it deserves a sequel. But it may take a bit before I can write it.

Anonymous said...

I wonder why it is that as members of the church, who have the truth, we find it so easy to fall into strange and forbidden paths? Over my years I have seen so many people fall away. There have been many different reason. But there has definately been a section of people that have simply decided they know better than everyone else. Yes the brethren are not perfect. But at the same time I have to be very careful how I judge them because of my imperfections. I had a companion who told me she could just imagine Moroni making mistakes while writing on the plates and had even decided where he had made mistakes. I myself think it is very egotistical to decided when an apsotle or prophet of God has made mistakes. Yes they are men and have made mistakes. You can look back in history and see some. I have heard many debates on early church history. Yes Joseph Smith drank alcohol. Of course back then it was a suggestion. Now it is a commandment. Big difference between a suggestion and a commandment. I agree that pride is a huge issue for all of us. Pride makes us say we are okay and don't have to change. Pride makes us say everyone else is wrong, but out of all the people in the world somehow we are the right one. Seeing so many people in the church entering strange and forbidden paths scares the heck out of me.

Erica said...

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