Friday, January 30, 2015

A short thought for a friend, Rock Waterman

I have learned that a close friend and fellow wayfarer is in the hospital suffering from pneumonia.  Rock Waterman is one of the most authentic people I know, what ancient daoists would call a "real person".

His blog is at "Pure Mormonism".

Realizing that few people visit this part of the bloggersphere/bloggernacle, I just want to express my love and admiration to Rock, and hope and pray for a speedy, full recovery.

Bless you Rock.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

John Dehlin: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

The narrative that John Dehlin is a "wolf in sheep's clothing", and thus should be cast out of the flock, is a misuse of scripture, and taking a scripture out of context.

The scripture is from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus said in
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-16) 
Without equivocation, John Dehlin has never claimed he is a prophet, and I doubt anyone here or elsewhere believes that he is.  This isn't just a semantic difference: we proclaim that "prophets" are those called to be such in the Church.

Let me take a believing point of view of Church History to determine what constituted a "wolf in sheep's clothing" in the past.  Joseph was not always the best judge of character.  When John C. Bennett came to him with radical ideas, Joseph gave them due consideration.  Among all things Bennett encouraged was "spiritual wifery", and Bennett performed abortions to take care of "celestial consequences".  I will leave aside whether Joseph Smith participated in any of these, but I think we can all agree that Bennett was indeed a very bad man at the time, and preached doctrines that ultimately had very bad fruits.  Because Joseph empowered Bennett as a Counselor in the First Presidency, Bennett was indeed a "prophet" by our modern definition (although I don't think that was clear then).

Bennett fully complies with the concept Jesus laid out as a "wolf in sheep's clothing".  He was appointed in a position we now consider a prophet, his fruits where heinous, and in his role as a member of the First Presidency, he wolf behavior was shrouded in holiness -- "sheep's clothing".

In what way does John Dehlin qualify for this distinction?

  1. Is he in any way a "prophet"?  No.  He has never held a position of leadership in the church, let alone those with the distinction of "prophet, seer, and revelator".  No. 
  2. Does he teach false doctrine?  No.  He doesn't teach doctrine at all.  He doubts it.  Disbelieves it, but does not teach it, nor does he advocate any doctrine (that is "what is taught") as being official doctrine of the Church.  It's clear to anyone that John Dehlin does not represent his views as being the doctrine of the church.
  3. Are his fruits evil?  From my vantage point, he has saved lives.  I went through years on suicide watch for a daughter who faithfully went through four years of seminary and four years of BYU suppressing her same sex attraction, trying to make the LDS church work for her.  I lost her to the church entirely as a result, but thank God she is still alive and no longer suicidal.  I didn't have the tools 10-15 years ago that we have now, largely thanks to John Dehlin and others who have given voice to those struggling with both LDS beliefs and LBTGQ issues.  

The argument by the Mormon Apologists that have branded Dehlin with this label is simple: They claim that John leads people out of the church with his comments and online entities.  He destroys testimony.  Therefore like Korihor, he is a filthy apostate.  Like Corianton, he has committed the "Sin next to murder" of destroying testimony (read Micheal Ash).

Has he?  Let's look at the defining statement he made in his press release -- one that gave me incredible heartburn -- "It is my intent to provide increased support to Mormons who are transitioning away from orthodoxy."  The reason it gives me heartburn is not what it says, but what you might take away if you do a quick reading and make a snap judgment, like we all do at times.

The terms "transitioning away from orthodoxy" implies "leaving the church" to most people. Supporting Mormons who are doing so sounds to the emotional mind like "Helping them do so".  So, its an easy leap in the mind from what it says to "Leading Mormons away from the Church".  It's unfortunate language.

I'm not dispelling the idea that as bitter as John is at this point, he certainly may, in the future, become more active in leading people out of the church if the church pushes him out.  I would. I certainly would.  But the reality for now is that until this point, he has not been "leading people away from the church" but rather, supporting and helping those who are already in a process of moving away from orthodoxy, and many that are already out.

To be clear, I don't support in any way anything that "leads people out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints".  Not my mission.  Not my purpose.  I'm "IN" the church as a heretic, and as much as possible, a faithful non-believer.  Many have found my position untenable, but I'm good with it and really don't care what others think at this point.  But John knows my position fully, and he supports me and I support him.

So, is John Dehlin a "wolf in sheep's clothing".  Not in the least, to my way of seeing it.  Instead, he has been the guy at the very border of the flock, watching the lambs leaving the flock and shouting out about the wolves in among the flock.  He has tried to give a voice to the stray lambs.  And for this, he will be cast out.

Who are those wolves?  We are.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Gita as a guide to these interesting times.

I'm in a particularly contemplative mood this morning about various ongoing things.  Life is full of surprises and changes.  One verse that gives me incredible peace at these "interesting times" is from the Bhagavad Gita,

"You have the right (agency) to act,
but no right at all to the fruits (outcomes) of your actions.
Do not set your heart on the fruits of action (outcomes, rewards)
nor become attached to inaction.

With Oneness of mind (l"yoga"), do what needs to be done,
Renouncing attachments, Dhanamjaya!  (another name for Arjuna)
Success or non-success become the same,
And that sameness is called, "Oneness".

The performance of action is but a step
toward enlightened Oneness, Dhanamjaya!
Find your refuge in this enlightenment,
sad are they who set their heart on rewards.

Endowed with enlightened Oneness,
cast aside concepts of "good" and "evil".
Devote yourself to Oneness,
Oneness is found in natural action."
(Bhagavad Gita 2:47-50, my translation.)

These verses inform me of an idea, an approach towards things in front of me, be them work related, faith transition, or even personal challenges.  The bottom line is this idea that "detached action" leads to Unity of mind, the idea that the poles and opposites we perceive in our reality are all part of a single divine continuum, and that we are part of something much bigger, the unity of all that is.

But in wrapping my mind around the "unity of all that is", the here and now, the present next thing I need to do, often seems so mundane, so distracting.  Events happen, or are pending happening, creating a sense of anxiety, a sense that something has to be DONE to make for better outcomes...


If I have learned anything that helps me in "these interesting times" is accepting the serenity of being able to focus on the next right thing, and as Gandhi said, "leave the rest to god."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why I stay LDS - short-form

I've wandered a bit through many faith traditions...maybe I'm a bit of an interfaith tourist.  Not necessarily a good thing, and not necessarily as an adherent of the various faiths, for I never really fully left Mormonism.

After Proposition 8, I thought it was morally reprehensible to continue to claim to be "Mormon" or to sustain the brethren when they, in my assessment, were oppressing a very needy minority, which happens to include family members.

So, I took a job in India.  I preferred China, due to my experience in Taoism, but I also respected Hinduism, and my narrow specialty around identity was more applicable to India.  I spent two years there, immersing myself in Hinduism, Vedanta, Advaita, and other aspects of the culture and found myself on a very deep spiritual quest.  Part of my job, as well, was to provide identity to  the poor of India, so I had a chance to immerse myself very deeply in Indian culture and politics.

At the peak of all this, I went on a pilgrimage to Arunachala, the holy Shaivite temple revered by adherents to Advaita as the pilgrimage site of Ramana Maharshi.  I spent time at his ashram.  I participated in the most sacred rite of fire/lingam worship in a puja in the most holy place of the temple at Arunachala.

At the moment that my Indian sponsor and his family found most sacred, I had exactly the opposite impression.  Out of respect for Hinduism, I won't express what I thought or felt, but it was neither appropriate nor did it harmonize with the sacredness of the ceremony.  I found the whole thing completely and totally absurd.  Yet afterwards, my sponsor told me of how deeply spiritual and sacred that experience was to him, and how much he appreciated that I suggested this pilgrimage.

Later, having lunch with a Brahman priest and a very good friend, I was expressing some of my lessons learned by learning the Sanskrit texts in Hindu scripture.  I told him that my learning of Sanskrit had given me a lot more insight into the meaning behind the words.  He told me that I was on the wrong track.  The words didn't matter, only that they were pronounced correctly...which was, of course, impossible for me to do as a non-Indian old guy.

At the end of my India experience, I came to a conclusion.  Religion isn't a global absolute.  Instead, it is a cultural paradigm, arising from our evolutionary need to unite as a tribe and community for protection, guidance, sustenance, and life.  This is both good and bad.  Good, because it truly is life-sustaining, probably why our evolutionary ancestors, even back 100,000 years ago, had religion, and evolution favored those who did, because they survived as a group.  It's also bad, because we have allowed our religious exclusivity to go overboard and reject new communities arising from our global identities.  We are evolving, and in like manner, religion needs to evolve.

But the more important conclusion I made as a result of India was that the reason Hinduism failed to resonate with me was because it was not my tribal religion.  My tribe is Mormonism, my rituals are Mormon rituals, my faith language is Mormon-speak, and my family, friends, and tribe members use these symbols, rituals, and language to communicate and share eternal principles important to me and that go beyond words.  They are "true" for me, and in embracing them, and being an active part of my Mormon community, I can find life.

There is no such thing as "one true church" for all tribes.  There is definitely a "true church" for *my* tribe, and in that sense, I embrace Mormonism without regrets whatsoever.  Yet, the fact that it is my tribe doesn't mean that I need to accept it as normatively imperative for me, and especially not for anyone else in the world.  I need to own my Mormonism, to not only embrace it, but be the type of member of the type of church in which I want to have faith.

As for whether I'm right or wrong when I die?  I see little risk in that.  If I'm right, cool.  If I'm wrong and the're some other god out there, I am pretty sure that a more enlightened mind out there will appreciate a thoughtful faith more so than a blind one.  And if I'm wrong and there is nothing else, I pretty sure I'll never figure that out...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What is the answer to all hard questions?

I read an article recently from the Ensign, entitled, "The answer to all the hard questions".  I suspect that this article is in response to a large number of LDS members that have significant questions in the light of recent admissions of the Church about some of the more "interesting" aspects of church history.

The article posits that the answer to all hard questions is "Do I trust god above everything else?".  Frankly, I don't trust easy answers, and I don't think anyone else should either.

I'm more inclined to think that the answer to all hard questions is "42", but that would bring up an entirely different line of reasoning...

The article posts five principles that we are to keep in mind:

Principle 1: God knows infinitely more than we do
Principle 2: God shares some of His knowledge
Principle 3: We can trust in God's love
Principle 4: We need to seek spiritual affirmations
Principle 5: We may need to wait upon the Lord

A poster referenced the article on a Facebook page and asked, "I'm curious, for all of you that really dislike the article, which of these principles you disagree with, or how you would talk about these principles differently than the author?"

My answer: I dislike and reject all of them.

Principle 1: God knows infinitely more than we do

How do we know this?  The concept of an infinite god is a distinctly neoplatonist creedal definition.  We continue in the creeds because we continue the traditions of our fathers.  

We believe that god is somehow an exalted human, and that Eternal Progression is exactly that: the eternal process of improving.  While Bruce McConkie suggested that an improving god is heresy, we have no requirement to believe that a god is indeed infinite in anything.  

A loving god cannot know about a random act of violence and it's endless impacts without intervening in some way to protect his children.  Therefore there is no answer to the theodicy: the problem of evil done by random acts of nature has no answer.  Infinite knowledge, power, and goodness completely break down in the presence of random evil.  Free agency cannot explain a tsunami.

To even suggest that there is a god who knows infinitely more than me is to delegate my own responsibility to think, to reason, and to learn through my own experience to distinguish good and evil.  The very plan of salvation requires us to do so, and through the symbolism of the garden of eden narrative, we recognize the simplistic, pat answers as the easy way...satan's way.

We need to embrace the idea that god does NOT have infinite knowledge, that he weeps over things that go wrong.  the bottom line is that in this world we will have tribulation -- shit happens -- not because the world is evil, but because it is in the nature of things.  It is the Way things work.  We can steer our course along the Way to live life to the fullest, but we cannot dictate the outcomes.  The rocks and rapids of the stream of Life are part of the ground of our being, not the acts of an infinite god.

There isn't a plan for everything, there are only tendencies with lots of free will and agency.  

Principle 2: God shares some of His knowledge

Again this implies a monster of a god.  Perhaps we impute the idea of a god who selectively shares his knowledge, based upon our attempt to rationalize an infinite god and why answers to prayers are so hard to get.  But the idea that god would withhold knowledge of a tsunami, for example, and not warning his children, makes him unworthy of worship.  Such a god is needlessly cruel and unenlightened.

Alma 12:9 says that it is given to many to know the mysteries of god, but they are under a charge to stick to the basics: "the lesser portion of God's word."  This doesn't imply at all that god selectively shares information, but rather, it is up to us to discover -- to learn through our own experience to distinguish good and evil.  

Eternal truth is eternal independent of any being.  God, a Being in our theology,  does not own eternal truth in a way that says he or she can selectively share it.  truth simply is.  If truth is a knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come then it is up to us to study it out in our mind, to reason, and then to seek guidance from the spirit.  This same spirit is called a "comforter",   This same spirit is our eternal companion.  This same spirit helps us open up to truth, provided we drop our agendas, desires, and preconceptions.  This same Spirit listens to us, weaps with us, grieves with us, and like a true companion, doesn't offer pat answers to the questions of the universe.

God does not withhold truth.  We simply deny ourselves the ability to know be ause we already think we know.  Our cups are full of the traditional dogma of what we think god is and knows, such that we cannot embrace the natural truths that are already within us in the form of our eternal divine nature, the light of Christ within us, and the indwelling of the holy ghost, our constant companion.  

Principle 3: We can trust in God's love

To this I would have to ask, "which god"?  the god of the bible is distinctly not loving, and genocides of women and children were commanded by that god.  that god condoned slavery, the submission of women, rape as a minor financial obligation on the part of the rapist.  

God apparently commanded polygamy, which in my family history had nothing to do with love.  

trust cannot be demanded or commanded.  trust is earned, and freely offered.  to trust or have faith in an abusive god or one enforced by his self-empowered prophets is not faith, but rather, delusion and enabling of abuse.

Whatever we believe god is, I do not believe that an enightened being would require blind trust.  Alma makes it clear that there is a heuristic to test any thing we have a desire to believe.  he called it "faith": the willingness to try something out, and validate our trust.  he said that the result of that trust -- the experiment on faith -- was not "belief" but rather "knowledge": we know thay a given thing edifies us *by our own experience*.  this exactly confirms the creation and garden of eden account where the purpose of life is for man to learn through his own experience.

Sure, we can "trust" god's love, but we also are commanded in Alma to verify, to discover the true god of love and not the invented god of this world.

Principle 4: We need to seek spiritual affirmations

While this principle seems like we should seek the spirit, the author says quite clearly that in this fallen world, we are cut off from the mind of god, therefore we cannot know things of god except that god reveals them: that the natural man cannot receive the things of god.

Unfortunately, this betrays the Calvinist influence and interpretations of New Testament scripture, prevalent in New England and in the formation of LDS doctrine. The Book of Mormon was revealed/translated/written before Joseph Smith created a much more universalist/optimistic view of mankind.  We are not fallen man, but indeed have already been redeemed from the fall.  Thus Man is free, to choose good or to choose evil; and according to Joseph Smith’s later doctrines, we are free to learn through our own experience.  

Why is this important?  Why should we reject the idea that the only source of truth is God?  It isn’t so much that God, however we define him or her is not ‘truth’, but our access to such truth is so incredibly limited, and yes, we need to seek truth. But how?   Even very early in Joseph Smith’s legacy, he posited that truth is not just there for the asking, but rather, we need to study it out in our own mind — we need REASON in order to grock eternal understanding.  And as the body without the spirit is dead, the spirit without the body is incomplete: we believe in a unity of material and spiritual, of works and faith…indeed all LDS doctrine is based upon both the spiritual as well as the physical.  

For those LDS who seek only the spirit as their answers to life, they can so often be misled by that spirit on very important and practical matters.  “Mind and Heart” both figure into the equation for solving life’s problems.  

I remember distinctly one of my companions talking about “spiritual addiction” — the notion that one becomes hooked on the good feelings of the spirit, and seeks for these feelings as if a drug to handle life.  Sure, spirit can provide comfort, and should, but that comfort, at the expense of living life to the fullest and directly confronting our problems instead of retreating into the spiritual feelings is akin to being addicted to drugs.  Yes, “Religion can be the opiate of the people”.

Principle 5: We may need to wait upon the Lord

Again, a seemingly innocuous statement, but the idea of “waiting” implies desire.  The Bhagavad Gita suggests another approach.  "Yogastah, kuru karmani, sangam tyaktva, dhanamjaya; siddhi asiddio samo bhutva; samatvam yoga ucyate”.  “With an enlightened (unified in yoga) mind, do what needs to be done, renouncing attachments, Dhanamjaya!  (another name for Arjuna)  Success or failure become the same, and that sameness of mind is called yoga/unity."

If waiting on the lord means “letting go”, then we are indeed doing what the Gita says: we are renouncing attachment to the outcomes.  We are ridding ourselves of desire, the source of all suffering according to the Buddha.  I’m all for that.

But our religion isn’t about letting go, it’s about attaining outcomes: we patiently wait on the lord to give us our just reward for all the good we have done.  We sing about this.  We state without equivocation, “If ye keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land, if ye keep not my commandments, ye shall be cut off from my presence.”  We are taught that if we keep a commandment of the lord, we are entitled to the blessings that are guaranteed by that commandment.  And then, when the blessing or prosperity doesn’t come, we are to “wait on the lord”, not to let go and realize that things may not work out, but rather, that in time everything is guaranteed to do so, whether in this life or the next.

The Unanswered Question

We are children in the LDS faith.  We have to have a reward-carrot system where we have to be assured of our rewards if we do good, because, by God, if we don’t do exactly what god says through his prophets, we’ll pay for it.  Mature faith realizes that there aren't easy answers to all the hard questions, but rather, the Unanswered Question, the one that requires us to grapple with our very existence, is the quest of a lifetime.

The easy "answer to all the hard questions”, as presented in this article, is to merely wait on the lord, because he’ll satisfy us in the long term, and we don’t have to worry about suffering now.  It’s a drug, and it’s harmful.  It's the short-cut to enlightenment, but paradoxically, it doesn't enlighten.

I see another approach: one that realizes that the world is what it is: a place governed by natural laws without consciousness or conscience, and we as wayfarers in that world can come to grips with how to live harmoniously with each other and in the world.  Our god is our guide through this wilderness — an enlightened being who walks with us, carries us, loves us unconditionally, and weeps with our tragedies.  S/he doesn’t do magic, and s/he doesn’t just fix things for us.  But like a really great friend and guide, s/he listens with the mind, heart, and spirit to our very needs, and waits for US to come to him/her.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Approaching Scripture

In my impression, the most important realization we can make is that no scripture is dictated by God verbatim.  In fact, very little of scripture by its own claim starts with "thus saith the lord", and that which does, is a reflection of a spiritual experience, often recollected years later, and recounted through oral tradition; and thus mixed with very human thinking and biases. 

At its best, scripture is given through inspiration into the mind and heart of humans at a given point in time.  At worst, it consists of a document justifying ethnic cleansing and genocide (this includes the OT with respect to Canaanites and Philistines, the NT with respect to Jews, and the Book of Mormon, with to the cultural identity of native americans and manifest destiny -- the god given justification to christianize them).  Thus, the concerns of the revealing "prophets" included tribal justifications as to why a given sacred place was decreed by god to belong to my tribe and not the sinful philistines (in today's language: "palestinians").

Once we realize the process of revelation, we can easily understand how mesopotamian myths came to be part of a sacred history, and why certain stories indicate a very partisan god.

The NT is no different.  the writings were never intended as scripture (with exception of Revelation) but rather, were captured thoughts by literate believers to explain specific points of view at a given point in time.  When the pagan Constantine organized the church in order to unite the empire, writings that were favorable toward rome and central priesthood power were kept, while the more esoteric and spiritual teachings, those favoring a sense of the divine feminine, the gnostic, or the jewish-christian view, were destroyed.  Indeed, the male-centric model of authority, where women were never to hold the priesthood and were to remain silent in churches in their plain modest dress and long hair, was systematically favored in the canon.

In order to develop a thoughtful faith, one based in truth, it is extremely important to understand the history of scripture.  Even scripture itself gives the key of understanding: scripture is NOT to be taken as literal history, but rather, the writings are holographically representative of the working of inspiration through flawed and politically motivated humans.  what emerges is not accurate history or science, but rather, a set of pointers to divine reality.  Scriptures thus do not contain that reality: they are like fingers pointing to the moon...they are not the moon, and when you look at the fingers, you can't see the moon.

In John 5:39, one of the misused and mistranslated scriptures in the King James Version, Jesus pointed out to the scribes that they searched the scriptures, because in them they thought the scriptures contained eternal life (god's Way of life: the Torah).  They do not, according to Jesus: they point to Him-- the I AM -- the eternal life as reflected in the Authentic Being that Jesus reflected in archtype.  He did not command the Scribes and Pharisees to "Search the scriptures", the greek is second person plural indicative, not imperative: "Ye search the scriptures"... an observation that the scribes and pharisees searching of scriptures has no real validity.  There is a warning in this for us.
How true it is of Jews, Mormons, Christians, and Muslims alike: a man-made thing becomes the object of worship and veneration.  The scriptures are venerated as the very infallible Word of God. 

To worship such an artifact has a word used in scripture: idolatry.

That said, scripture does point to the divine reality, and can serve as part of our faith journey.  in meditating on a truth, we can open our minds to the divine realities to which they point as we abandon the specific words and symbols.  once we come to be enlightened by that reality, according to the Bhagavad Gita, then scripture becomes as a well within a pristine, freshwater lake.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Radical Rethinking of Religion

On occasion, I moderate online groups supporting those who stuggle with religion and faith. My point of view is that faith within a faith community is a "good thing", because when I tried the alternative in my sojourns to India, I really missed the communitarian aspect of Church and religion.  Maybe I was just brought up that way.

But I think another element is involved.  Religion, with all of its dogma and ritual, have a place in the community, if for nothing else but to fulfill a deep human need to be connected one to another.  Good religions foster this sense of community, and the best of religions tend to serve the needs of members and others through service.  This can represent the very best in humanity.

When I felt most isolated on my personal faith journey, I came to a conclusion that something inside me, very primal, needs the connection with others -- needs a place to call my "home".  For me, this is the LDS church, because that is the faith of my fathers (mothers, family, etc.).  As well, I have had deep spiritual experiences binding me to that faith in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Yet my sojourns through other faith traditions has given me a deep respect that as much as I self-identify as Mormon or LDS, I deeply respect that others, too, have an exclusive sense of connection to their respective faiths.  I share a lot with a colleague in Ireland who is a devout Catholic, and like me, conducts music in his congregation on occasion.  His family and mine could be identical: five children, deep commitments to family and to community, obviously the same kind of work. 

One weekend, I stayed with him in Dublin, going to a rugby game, participating in Irish folk music until late at night, and on Sunday, working with his folk choir as they prepared for and participated in the Mass.  It was a lot of fun, but also, a contest of egos as to who was in charge.... hard to give up old patterns, I'm afraid.

I had explained to him that once in Montreal, I had participated in Catholic communion, and did not understand how we can be exclusive in our religions as to who participates fully in the ritual.  He was mortified, because such a sacrilege by a non-Catholic is entirely inappropriate.  So, he explained that I could participate in the communion, but not take the host -- by crossing my arms in the form of an X.  During his mass, I did so, and the priest blessed me instead of serving me the host -- it was a remarkably spiritual moment.

There is something about the ritual that speaks to the soul.  Whether it be the Mass, or a Shaivite fire ritual, or the LDS temple, or elsewhere, the ritual stirs something inside -- a unity, a connection, a deep sense of awe.  I have been transported to another realm in hearing the Shema, or the recitation of the Qur'an.  Perhaps there are many paths to the top of Mount Fuji (as the buddhist expression goes), but to me, there is a path I'm on.

Why is (or was) religion necessary?

So what is religion anyway?  In speaking of the term, I'm refering to the organized, cultural construct whereby we worship together.  While individual spirituality and faith are often present in the organized religion, they are distinct, and indeed personal.  Religion serves a distinct purpose, to bind a community together through ritual, common caring, and identity.

I do not believe that any "religion" was and is a god-dictated construct.  I'll go with "inspired", but I also will say that in being 'inspired', some aspects of religion reflect that inspiration, but ALL religion is also a man-made construct, and arose necessarily out of the need for the tribe to survive.

Speaking from an evolutionary point of view, humans are not well equiped to survive as individuals in the wild.  Our evolutionary strength comes not only from our minds, but also our ability to form mutually-protecting groups.  It's evident to me that our rituals went back at least 100,000 years even among the related Neandethals, who dressed their dead with ritual and omens indicating some kind of community beliefs.

I would imagine, or theorize, that rituals helped bring a tribe together.  The unique languages of ritual practice, whether social or otherwise, would help identify a member of the tribe, as opposed to someone whose rituals differed.  A member of the tribe might be trusted, whereas the stranger in the midst would be distrusted.  Such behaviors did not develop because people are inherently racist or bigoted, but rather, the primitive society used these protocols to identify friends/family from foes/foreigners.  Our personal preference to those who speak and look like us, who pray like us, and who act like us is a result of hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary natural selection -- we are programmed to need the identifying rituals, whether we like them or not.

Today, religion stands at the gate between our tribal identities and our emerging global identities.  In fact, the more we globalize, the more desperate religion is to re-assert tribal identity among the still-faithful in the religion.  Indeed, the vast majority of the world's problems have to do with the assertion of tribal identity as a means of survival over globalization, especially in the presence of perceived scarcity of critical resources.  The global war on terrorism (GWOT), along with its partner, fundamentalist religious terrorism, dominate the world scene and serve to bring down progress and pluralism.

The Tipping Point has Arrived.

So here we are, in a world where religion stands in opposition to progress.  As I mentioned at the beginning, I moderate groups where people struggle with faith and religion.  I have been dablling in this since the 1990s, but during the past year or so, I have never seen more people flooding the gates of leaving religion.  When I was involved in early mormon-focused usenet groups (,, we had a few people join us on occasion -- one or two per month, maybe.  Of course, usenet was not as popular, say, as facebook or other fora (or is it "forums"). 

I've been participating on occasion within the "Disaffected Mormon Undeground" (DAMU - affectionately pronouncd "Damn-You") for the past several years.  My obsession with statistics has led me to observe the numbers of people in and out of those groups, and I have informally tracked these for the past four years.  I have seen steady increases in people involved, but within the past few two years, I can quantitively say that the number of requests for support about my particular religion, the LDS church, has not doubled, but rather, quadrupled.  This week, alone, we admitted 42 people into a facebook group after confirming that they had a legitimate concern abou their church adn were trying to make it work.  This contrasts with 20 maximum last year, and half that the year before -- and we were not nearly as selective in the past. 

And we're the ones trying to help people stay in the church.  The popularity of ex-mormon or really disaffected, "on-one's-way-out" sites is at least four to six times as great as those who wish to stay in.  These are quantifiable statistics based upon membership numbers and increase per week of the sites with various constituencies.

I'm reminded of Malcom Gladwell's book The Tipping Point, where he explains how certain social phenomenon achieve a certain critical mass, and after that "tipping point" a massive change in sentiment occurs.  I do not wish for the tipping point to turn against the good parts of religion -- but I can see the "writing on the wall" at this point.  The availability of information readily available on the internet, the social networking that connects people to each other in lieu of the community across global communities of interest -- spell a massive need for change in traditional religions.

A Radical Rethinking

I'm weird, but you know that.   I love religious ritual.  I love putting incense on the graves of the 47 ronin at Sengakuji.  I truly enjoyed the Mass in Dublin.  I enjoy the ritual of the LDS endowment, as well as the quiet, contemplative moments of communion (or what we call "Sacrament").  I love the traditions of Yom Kippur, where I draw near my family and re-assess where I stand in the book of life.  I have recited the necessary suras as part of islamic prayer.  I have chanted in sanskrit. Yet, I have been disappointed in my own efforts to create my own kind of spirituality -- it would seem to me that I feel most at home within the faith of my fathers and upbringing -- it speaks to me.

I would like to propose a new kind of faith -- a faith where we all recognize and appreciate that we don't know with certainty about the divine, but rather, we celebrate the divine in our rituals and in our daily lives.  I would like to stand, side-by-side, with a mullah, an evangelical, a hasid, and an atheist, and instead of arguing about who is right, find ways where we share our common humanity.  I don't want one world religion, I want as many as necessary to speak to our individual souls.

I would like to celebrate the Jesus Christ who challenged my forefathers' and fore-mothers' Jewish and Christian faith, by asking them who their neighbor was.  I would think that James the brother of Jesus could sit at the same table as Paul's greek converts, and while James might stay kosher in his meals, the converts may have a different view -- yet we are all one body of humanity.

Yes, there are going to be many messages in my religion, polemics of the past, that I'm going to have to discard.  I'm going to have to throw away the idea of "one true church" for everyone, except in the metaphorical sense of a unity across diversity.  I'm going to have to realize that the polemics of my church's past are not worthy of defense, but should indeed be apologized for, rather than a subject of apologetics. 

What I'm suggesting is that each church embrace a larger, interfaith community of acceptance.  Yes, our churches will need to change -- not the ritual, not the practices that are compatible with others.  We need to embrace a universal faith, while living within diverse religious traditions.  Our traditions can enrich us, but it is our faith that must unite us.

I am so much of a fool.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Orson Pratt: God as Attributes

Orson Pratt was one of the most brilliant scholars of the early LDS church, and his intellectualism often led to conflict with the leadership of Brigham Young.  Young was authoritarian, whereas Pratt was rational.  In many ways, they were both speculative in their theology, but to Young's authoritarian style, Pratt's approach was entirely too confrontational.  In 1853, it would seem that Young found a solution to this intellectual conflict: he sent Pratt on a mission to Washington DC, to testify to the Gentiles.  As part of this mission, and with the approval of the leadership, Pratt authored an apologetic tract on Mormon theology and practice entitled, "The Seer".

Pratt was a true LDS believer.  As he had learned from Joseph Smith, God was both the one being that created and governs the universe, as well as an exalted man.  God was both unchangeable, according to scripture, the same from everlasting to everlasting, yet the being we call "Heavenly Father" was once a man, and had progressed to become God.  The pre-mortal existence of man was in a realm speaking of the "Sons of God" who were in someway gods, yet there could only be one god.  Joseph Smith taught that god has an immortal, inseparably connected exalted body, and can only be in one place at a given point in time, yet the scriptures speak of god being everywhere.

Indeed, Mormon theology about a God who was once man, and the idea that man can become god is fraught with fundamental conflicts with the mainstream definition of God.  How can god be unchangeable, but the being we call god, either as God the Father transformed from mortal man to Heavenly Father, or as Jesus was once man yet progressed, line upon line in his mortal life, to become god.  If we as humans are fallible, how then can we become unchanging gods?

Orson Pratt's laid out a remarkable approach for answering this apparent paradox.  In the February 1853 edition of The Seer, Orson Pratt laid out his understanding of the pre-existence as a child of god, and his destiny as a god, thus resulting in a multiplicity -- indeed "millions" of gods.  How could this be reconciled?  Here are his words from The Seer, Volume 1, Issue 2:
All these Gods are equal in power, in glory, in dominion, and in the possession of all things ; each possesses a fulness of truth, of knowledge, of wisdom, of light, of intelligence ; each governs himself in all things by his own attributes, and is filled with love, goodness, mercy, and justice towards all. The fulness of all these attributes is what constitutes God. "God is Light." "God is Love." "God is Truth." The Gods are one in the qualities and attributes. Truth is not a plurality of truths, because it dwells in a plurality of persons, but it is one truth, indivisible, though it dwells in millions of persons. Each person is called God, not because of his substance, neither because of the shape and size of the substance, but because of the qualities which dwell in the substance. Persons are only tabernacles or temples, and TRUTH is the God, that dwells in them. If the fulness of truth, dwells in numberless millions of persons, then the same one indivisible God dwells in them all. As truth can dwell in all worlds at the same instant; therefore, God who is truth can be in all worlds at the same instant. A temple of iinmortal flesh, and bones, and spirit, can only be in one place at a time, but truth, which is God, can dwell in a countless number of such temples in the same moment. When we worship the Father, we do not merely worship His person, but we worship the truth which dwells in His person. When we worship the Son, we do not merely worship His body, but we worship truth which resides in Him. So, likewise, when we worship the Holy Ghost, it is not the substance which we alone worship, but truth which dwells in that substance. Take away truth from either of these beings, and their persons or substance would not be the object of worship. It is truth, light, and love that we worship and adore ; these are the same in all worlds ; and as these constitute God, He is the same in all worlds ; and hence, the inhabitants of all worlds are required to worship and adore the same God. Because God dwells in many temples, He frequently speaks to us, as though there were many Gods : this is true when reference is made to the number of His dwelling places ; baut it is not true, and cannot be true,, in any other sense. Therefore, in all our future statements and reasonings, when we speak of a plurality of Gods, let it be distinctly understood, that we have reference alone to a plurality of temples wherein the same truth or God dwells. And also when we speak of only one God, and state that He is eternal, without beginning or end, and that He is in all worlds at the same instant, let it be distinctly remembered, that we have no refer- ence to any particular person or substance, but to truth dwelling in a vast variety of substances. Wherever you find a fulness of wisdom, knowledge, truth, goodness, love, and such like qualities, there you find God in all His glory, power, and majesty, therefore, if you worship these adorable perfections you worship God. 
 Shortly after this was published, Brigham Young openly disagreed, saying that we don't worship attributes, but rather, a being.  This disagreement continued from late 1853 until around 1860, after which Orson Pratt was forced into submission by the Quorum of the Twelve to accept the Prophet's word without question.  He then gave a formal apology in a conference address.

Certainly many of Orson Pratt's pronouncements were speculations.  Curiously, the issue that caused the most dissension between him and Brigham Young was the Adam-God concept: Orson simply couldn't agree that Adam was an alien from another planet and who was appointed to be God of this earth.  As well, he couldn't agree, scripturally, that god continues to progress.  Here we have both Brigham Young and Orson Pratt speculating on the nature of god, and one was brought into submission because he wasn't the prophet.  Later, of course, Brigham Young's speculations around Adam-God and the progression of god have proved distinctly non-scriptural and problematic to later prophets.  In the end, who was right?

To me, it's important to observe that Orson Pratt's observations were a valid attempt to rationalize scriptural understanding of god with the god as defined by Joseph Smith.  Orson Pratt was a true believer, yet in his attempt to rationalize mormon theology, he came upon an idea, supported in scripture, that the eternal nature of god is a universal constant: truth, light, power, etc., are godly attributes, and a person possessing such attributes can and should be called "god".

Where Pratt caused confusion is to suggest that the attributes, disembodied, are objects of worship.  They are not.  It is not the attributes that make up god, but rather the attributes embodied in a person -- the "I AM" that make up god.  The body (the individual) and spirit (the attributes, metaphorically) become inseparably connected, and thus achieve the fullness of joy (power, truth, light, etc.).

As I see the Way

I see these attributes in the context of the Way.  The Way, as an abstract concept or attribute, is not god, never was, never will be.  The Way is what makes one God.  In Chinese daoist literature, the "Sage", or literally, "holy person", is characterized as being one who is in perfect harmony with the Way.  To me, Orson Pratt was on a trajectory to understand the Way in a sense that makes it real -- Any being who possesses the attributes (of the Way) and is in perfect harmony with the Way would be and is indistinguishable from god.

Sure, I understand this as being an exalted state, eventually to be achieved in LDS doctrine and theology.   But somehow, Jesus saw it differently: he saw that we could be one with him and with God in a very real, present sense.  To him, Psalm 82 spoke of mankind being gods in this life, not as a state to achieve, but rather, as state of existence in the here and now -- one who defends the poor and the fatherless, who does justice to the afflicted and the needy.  If there were any "Way" that Jesus best demonstrated, it was how we are to care for one another in unconditional love.  This was the Way of Jesus Christ: to love one another.

And this attribute, "Love", is worthy of worship.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Life Happens

So… about six months since my last blog here.

Perhaps it's a cycle I go through, but I think I'm landing at exactly the same point I was three years ago: trying to make being part of a community work for me, but it doesn't…not really.  I am forever feeling like a round peg being forced into square and triangular holes, designed for other people, or for parts of me that I'm not.

I failed miserably at a whole raft of worldly activities in the past six months.  Whether it be work, or elsewhere, I'm not finding myself to be very good at many things - particularly when it comes to the responsible things of life: paying taxes, submitting expenses, doing the regular things that other people find easy…I find absolutely dreadful to do.  A man quit on me at work citing me as the primary reason for leaving, and my boss tells me that I really am no good at my job.  That was all right before Christmas…

So I gave it a thought over the holidays…  Added up my strengths, my liabilities, my assets -- literally and figuratively -- and found that I'm not so bad after all -- but I make myself bad. I allow stupid fears to prevent me from living life to the fullest.

Then, returning to work in January, it's like a completely new world to me.  I have caught up on all administrative issues, as if there was no problem at all.  Work things are starting to break nicely, and while there are profound challenges still, I am dealing with them.

It's simply the journey that matters, to be in life, but not taken back by life.

wayfaring on...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 28, 1963, fifty years later

I am sitting in Brussels, Belgium, unable to attend the events commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington.  My wife and I had planned on going to the interfaith worship service that traditionally kicks off the event, but business responsibilities have taken me to another place.

Twenty years ago, I had the distinct privilege of co-chairing the organizing committee for the interfaith worship service for the thirtieth anniversary commemoration.  We struggled to find the right keynote speaker, and landed on having Andrew Young and Eleanor Holmes Norton as the speakers for it.

It was a very hot day.  Delegate Norton was struggling to find her notes for speaking, and I tried to help, saying something stupid like, "Just speak from your heart."  She eventually found her notes and spoke them from her heart.  A noisy disturbance almost derailed the service at one point, and as I stepped down from the podium at the Sylvan theater to try to calm things down, Andrew Young accompanied me, and with grace, dignity and power I have seldom seen before, this former deputy of Martin Luther King, former Ambassador to the United Nations, and mayor of Atlanta immediately calmed the group that was making the ruckus.

I went into the role of co-chairing the event thinking that I could change the world.  What I learned from Andrew Young that day is that the change of the world happens at an individual level, as he lovingly calmed down a relatively minor disturbance and an obscure event.

No, I don't remember at all what was said that day, but I remember being arm-in-arm with my brothers and sisters singing, "We shall overcome". 

So, yes, I will miss this today.

I often reflect on what Dr. King said fifty years ago today, how he said it, and what happened.  In listening to his speech, the first part of it was elegant and erudite.  A promissory note not paid, language that effectively expressed the evils of racial segregation and then-current public policy.  It was a masterful speech, but it wasn't resonating.  At one point, Dr. King looked up, and abandoning his notes, began to express a dream for the world, based in the American dream.  Sure, the material came from many of his stump speeches -- perhaps everything he said from that point on was former material. 

But this was no ordinary day.  This was the day when the words expressed before would come together into a marvellous symphony of spiritual connectedness.  It was no longer just about equality for the negro, but expressed a dream where a diverse people of can come together and be free at last. 

Now, fifty years later, are we free at last?  Sure, laws have changed, such freedom doesn't happen just because laws change, but rather, there needs to be a mighty change of heart.  To say we are done with the progress made on that day is overlook the fact that we, as a country and world, are more divided than ever at a personal level.  In America, a very small minority of people with immense wealth and power are effectively dismantling the laws that put us on the track of equality and justice.  The difference between the wealthy 1% and the majority is greater than it ever has been.  Founding principles that assure freedom, such as the separation of church and state and the right of privacy are being dismantled in the very name of 'freedom'. 

We have not overcome.

We have not overcome, but we can, if we embraced the dream, and make that dream a reality.  No-one else will make this happen for us, for me.  I need to stand today, and wherever I am, to march on Washington and demand that we create the dream for which Dr. King died.  We must overcome our differences and work together.  We must overcome our deeply-held biases and learn of each other.  We must overcome our personal desire for wealth and work for a greater good.  We must overcome by setting aside our religious differences and embrace the oneness that makes us human. 

So today, this 28th of August, 2013, I will read again and listen to Dr. King's speech.  But I need to do more than that.  I cannot change the world, or even, perhaps, anyone else, but I need to see where my individual choices limit this dream.  I need to commit to making that dream a reality, if only in my individual dealings with others.  That, I can do.  That, I must do.

I ... can overcome.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Thinking about the Endowment

Let me try a story here...a fable or myth that may have some bearing on why masonic symbols are in our temples.  I'm not concerned with history here -- instead, I'm doing a type of interpretive story-telling about what I consder to be deeply spiritual.   

Let's say that a million years ago an enlightened alien, a "Great Architect", came to this planet, found a bunch of primitive beings -- early humans, and decided that there was potential for these "humans" to be just like she is. Given the distances and logistics of space travel, she knew she couldn't be here to help out these beings, but knowing that they eventually would need to know some really important things, she embedded into their genetic code a set of important programs: that people would need to have communities, that communities are best if they have some sort of bond, and that bonds are made through shared traditions.

In time, the beings she left behind would create communities, but in so doing they sometimes created hostility between themselves and their neighbors The underlying programs were still working but other programs were distorting their ability to live harmoniously together.

About 2500 years ago, the Great Architect happened to be travelling through the solar system, and noted all across the world, these beings were fighting with each other and needed an update of some of the programming. given that humans by then had populated the whole earth, she decided to spread a MESSAGE through a set of messengers: they were named "Cyrus", "Ezra", "Isaiah", "Daniel", but not just them -- also: Pythagoras, Confucius, Laotzu, Gautama...many were the names of these prophets. He told them to write down the MESSAGE. One of them even wrote about this -- his name was Nephi:

"For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it."

In some parts of the world, the MESSAGE was called "THE WAY".

In another five hundred years, some wise men from the eastern lands along the Silk Road came to Jerusalem and found a very intelligent young boy who had seemingly infinite potential. As the MESSAGE had been corrupted in Jerusalem, they taught him again the MESSAGE. Most of this boy's disciples later in life would distort the MESSAGE, but because the WAY -- the principle behind he MESSAGE -- resonates in everyone, the disciples revered the boy as a God, or the Son of God.    The boy learned that the WAY was really what the Jews thought of as the Power of God...and more specifically, the boy learned that to be one with that power is to be god in very act and deed.  He told his followers that to authentically "be" is to be the "I AM".  He quoted the scriptures, speaking to all, "Ye are Gods, and all of you are children of the Most High".  When his disciples tried to get him to show them "The Father", he told them that this authenticity of being -- the I AM -- is the very father -- "If ye have seen me, ye have seen the Father".  He prayed that each of his disciples might be one with the WAY and each other, in the same way that Jesus was One with the Father.  His enlightened principle was "[the] I AM (that is the authenticity of being) [is] the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE -- laying out in the simplest terms the MESSAGE.

Go forward another 1000 years, and a group of very faithful, very sacrificing knights went to the holy land with the initial intent to reclaim the holy land from muslims, who had received the MESSAGE from corrupted teachings in a book called the "Recitation". Before these knights left, they went to get a blessing from a spiritual master named Bernard of Clairvaux. They were given "orders", or special rules, and even special tokens and signs that would help them identify a brother as they tranversed the WAY. These tokens and signs were to be kept strictly secret, in order to preserve the sanctity of the WAY and its MESSAGE, which Bernard conveyed to them.

When these knights went to Jerusalem, they found another group of people who had exactly the same understanding of the WAY and the MESSAGE. They were called "Sufis", and while they accepted the book of the recitation, they understood the MESSAGE behind the text, and found unity with the Knights. That unity was based in the Temple at Jerusalem -- a nexus of worship where Sufi and Knight could worship together. They had, together, uncovered the great secret of the Temple -- that the MESSAGE and the WAY are the very power of the universe, and to become one with that WAY is to be one with all that is. The Knights of the Temple abandaned their desire for conquest, and found the WAY to live in harmony -- They understood that oneness is to be of one heart and one mind, and to care for the poor so that there are no poor among the city of god.

In the next two hundred years, these Knights, operating as one heart and one mind became the backbone infrastructure of almost all good that was done in the society of europe. Their covenants and obligations -- they were completley obedient, they sacrificed themselves, they lived in harmony with the Gospel of all truth as they understood it -- they were rigorously chaste, and they consecrated all they had to the order.

And they prospered exceedingly. They set up the first banking system throughout europe, their financial holdings exceeded that of the Church and kings -- so much so that one of the kings, in an underhanded dealing with head of the church, conspired to have all the knights arrested and tried for heresy on the same day throughout the land Friday the 13th.

The purge of the Knights was nearly completely successful. The entire body of Knights was destroyed except for two places at the western and northwestern extremes of Europe. Nothing was heard of again of these noble Knights except for a very remarkable uprising about seventy years after the first purge.

About three hundred years later, in Scotland, in the northwestern extreme of Europe, a group of people, perhaps men in the building trades, felt the call again of the MESSAGE and the WAY. They formed lodges where they could organize their efforts.  While it seems like there was no direct connection between the Scottish rite and the earlier Knights, they adopted many of the Knights' WAY.  At the same time, Catholic Jesuit missionaries returning from Asia, hearing the MESSAGE and the WAY from their converts in China and India, inspired a type of questioning of the Church that had a lock on the hearts of europe. They called this new way of thinking, patterned after eastern words for the same -- "Enlightenment".

The members of the lodges had discovered within the MESSAGE that the WAY is not the creedal "god" -- that is, all-powerful, all knowing, and all good, everywhere but personal, etc., but rather, that the WAY was a legacy left behind by an inspired builder, a Great Architect of the Universe.   Rather than worshipping the Great Architect, they decided to serve mankind in harmon with the WAY. Yet, because the Church was very powerful, and would reject this humanist approach to service, the members of lodges, "Masons" as they were called after the trade of perhaps some of the original members, needed a way to identify each other -- signs and tokens to protect the integrity. They were also under strict oaths of obedience, sacrifice, living in harmony with the Gospel, and of course, he willingness to become one in all things.

THe message of enlightenment, humanism, and deism embodied by the Masons attracted a specific group of scottish and english intellectuals and leaders, some of whom found their way to this new land, America, a promised land, where the principles of enlightement and secular humanism could be practiced. One of the principle leaders of the masonic movement was a man named George Washington, who established a lodge in Alexandria, near his home in Mount Vernon. As well, his guiding hand behind the scenes among his fellow masons helped guide this new-found land of opportunity. And because of this influence, the MESSAGE of teh WAY found itself into the founding documents of a great nation that would house the restoration of the full MESSAGE at the right time.

I think you can finish this story on your own.

Yes, the Temple Endowment is heavily based on the Masonic ritual. And while, historically the link to the Knights Templar is weak, and there is no real link to the Temple of Solomon as claimed, the reality, to me, is that there is a deep spiritual link between the LDS temple and the MESSAGE that has been embedded into all the great and noble systems of the past.

The masons were and are not an evil organization -- but rather enlightened in many ways. when we go to the temple, and participate in the tokens and signs, we are giving homage to those who came before Joseph Smith as humble guardians of the MESSAGE, whether they were the founding fathers who were masons, the leaders of the Scottish Enlightement who gave us our freedom and economic systems, or the spiritual foreberers -- the Knights Templar, who understood, under the influence of Bernard of Clairvaux, the divine order, tokens and signs, and covenants we share today in the temple.

And to understand the true origin of these rich rituals, I invite you to recall that Bernard of Clairvaux, "Saint Bernard", the founder of the Trappist monastic tradition, is the author of arguably the most sacred hymn in the LDS Hymnbook: Jesus the Very Thought of Thee". This hymn emboides the MESSAGE adn the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. In one verse in the latin, not translated intoo english in our hymnbook:

Nec lingua valet dicere, - No tongue can speak it
nec littera exprimere: - No words can express it
expertus potest credere, Only through experience can we know
quid sit Jesum diligere. the love that Jesus offers.

Perhaps rather than thinking of the temple as weird and quirky, which it seems to be for all of us at first. Perhaps we should embrace the reality that we are walking in the footsteps of some very great individuals -- Masons, Knights Templar, and holy Saints -- who sacrificed all to give us what we have today.

Saturday, July 27, 2013


-   Photo is courtesy of Amy Logan Wengreen, used by permission.

In Utah, the biggest parade of the year is the Pioneer Day parade on July 24th, celebrating the 1947 and later pioneers who came to Utah to be free of religious persecution in the east and midwest.  Each year, communities including religious groups march and exhibit floats, bands, and other stuff to represent something they're proud of. 

This year, a group in Springville, UT marched as the 2000 stripling (young) warriors of Helaman.  This story, from the Book of Mormon, tells of a number of very young men who were recruited to defend their country.  While untrained militarily, they were very believing and faithful, obeying each order with exactness, leading them to be successful in every battle with no loss of life on their side.
Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.  And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.  (Alma 56: 47-48)
For some who saw this parade, the idea of not having any doubt was deeply troubling to them -- we all have doubts of one kind or another.  Doubt is a very important emotion -- it prevents us from accepting things that aren't true.  It helps us survive against deception.  It helps us question our assumptions, and move to a position of knowing truth, if the facts are available to us.

Unfortunately, our culture doesn't countenance doubt.  Within religions, particularly the fundamentalist kind, doubt is a sign of weakness in the faith.  So, the story of Helaman's 2000 stripling warriors is a signal to the doubters to cast aside doubts and march with the faithful...

And that can be painful, indeed.

I have a different view of doubt.  To me, "doubt" is a temporary, unresolved negative feeling toward a given belief. If I no longer believe a given thing, it's no longer in "doubt".  If I decide that the evidence is insufficient to make a belief decision, then I can suspend judgment, but again, I am no longer in 'doubt'.  Doubt is the moment of hesitancy, the point at which one feels that a thing believed may not be 'true'.  I see doubt as a necessary, temporary feeling, motivating me to resolve the area of doubt, and there is a time and place for doubt.

Where "doubt" doesn't make sense.

The story of the 2000 stripling soldiers equates a lack of doubt with success in a military setting.  This is entirely reasonable.  "Doubt" can impair the warrior's ability to act decisively and courageously. If I have been given an order to take a hill, then my exclusive focus is to take the hill without questioning or doubting the merit of taking the hill. This does not mean that I think that there is merit in taking the hill: what I believe is irrelevant to the action taken in faith--therefore I suspend both belief and disbelief and simply do what needs to be done.

Yet, I wonder in a military situation whether 'not doubting' is appropriate in all military situations.  No soldier in a modern, ethical army should obey an order that violates law.  For example, I would hope that soldiers have enough doubt as to question wether their actions might harm civilians, and indeed, in modern armies, soldiers are trained over and over to recognize illegal and unethical situations, and to act accordingly.

Battle is often a difficult endeavor, and decisions are often clouded by the fog of war.  In the actual engagement of battle, the thinking has often to be set aside in favor of training.  In this sense, the training of the 2000 stripling warriors, paradoxically by their mothers, was effective in making correct decisions in the instant of the battle -- they did not doubt, because their training had been effective.  I suspect that part of that training, by mothers who did NOT typically go to war, was to make prudent moral decisions: their training had been sufficient to act morally and effectively without having to ponder and hesitate.

In leading people, establishing a direction for the future, I find that I often doubt as to what direction I should go, fearing failure if I make the wrong choice.   But to the extent that this doubt remains in my mind, hesitating my choices as a leader, I am also making a choice -- to do nothing.  And, such 'doing nothing' can be the wrong choice.  Leadership isn't being certain about the direction, it's about being decisive on the direction when such is necessary.  Leadership demands, at times, decisiveness, as noted by Paul:
For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle? (1 Corinthians 14:8) 
Yet, again, Paul is invoking the battle metaphor for a non-military situation.  In fact, when the metaphor is read in context, it has nothing at all to do with doubt or inability to take action: it's about the futility of speaking in tongues in a preaching situation, because the hearers won't understand the words -- it's about the opposite of doubt: clarity.

Another important battle metaphor from another faith tradition is that of the Bhagavad Gita, in a battle between two kindreds fighting for the right to rule, Arjuna, the leader of one goes with his charioteer to observe the battlefield.  His charioteer is Krisha -- god -- and he does not want to fight.  Arjuna has doubt.  But Krishna helps him overcome doubt to understand that there is a time and place for decisiveness - in any battle.  Later in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that the "field" of battle is really "the body", or in other words, the battle is within us.  The warriors on the battlefield are our attributes -- our gunas -- the things that may serve in some time and place, and in others, not.  When it is time, it's important to kill, or cast aside, our "gunas" -- our desires, our appetites, our passions, and do what is needed. 

But these stories are myths and metaphors: whenever we literalize them, or take them too far, we run the risk of absurdity: we are not military.   For years I set aside the Gita as having a very narrow worldview of killing one's kindred -- I had been taking the text literally.  But when I realized that the Gita is absolutely metaphorical -- a myth that never was but always is -- I learned that the war we are fighting, if any, is with our own selves, to overcome the gunas (worldly attributes) that bind us down and limit our freedom to act with authenticity.

So, to the extent that doubt impairs our ability to act when action is demanded, then doubt is not appropriate.  I might go so far as to say that at this point, it is too late for doubt -- a decision is required, and the time for training has long passed.  In these moments, making a choice, being confident in that choice, and moving forward.  Yet these moments of decisiveness are few and far between.  Our lives are filled with time where we can make considered decisions, where we have time, and where that time allows us to...doubt.
Where doubt is absolutely necessary

Doubt is an integral feeling within our emotional mind.  It occurs when we encounter thoughts or sensory input that call into question what we have already stored in our belief structure.  To be precise, I will use the term "schema" to refer to the structure of our stored beliefs. 

We don't store information in our schema in nice neat folders.  We receive input from our senses and our thoughts, and our minds need to store them somewhere.  Instead of an image or recording of those thoughts or sensory impressions, we store associations to what we already have in our schema.  We see a chair made of brown wood in a particular location and we associate that object "this chair" with our sense of what "chair" means, as well as to other objects: wood, "brown", etc.  We may store this chair in our episodal memory -- with this place and time.  Each of these data add to our schema by association. 

Importantly, if we have discovered something about this chair, we may have a positive or negative experience about the chair.  As we sit on a chair, we learn it's usefulness -- we trust the chair.  This feeling of certainty is important, because we have identified "chair" as being something that keeps us alive, it helps us -- we trust it... We have faith in the chair.  As we have come to understand the neurological workings of our minds, "faith" is a neural link to the "certainty" emotion within our mind's schema.

What happens when we sit on a chair and it breaks?  We hurt ourselves, or we certainly see how we could have hurt ourselves.  Within our minds, this new data causes a negative emotional association within our schema about this chair, and potentially all chairs we have associated into our schema.  The link to "certainty" is now in conflict with the link to "fear".  In fact, our minds utterly detest this feeling of fear about something we formerly held as certain.  On a large scale, this feeling of contempt is called "cognitive dissonance", but on the scale of a singular event, it is called "doubt". 

Thus, we cannot avoid "doubt".  It is part of our ability to learn. It keeps us alive, as we learn, through our own experience, to distinguish things that are good for us, or evil for us.  While all other chairs may be ok, there is something now that causes us concern about the integrity and safety of that chair.

But here is the thing: if we allow this negative emotion to paralyze our feelings about all chairs, then we have made an incorrect association within our schema.  Curiously, the permanent neural associations are not made immediately within the mind -- neural connections take time to establish themselves.  Thus, in a learning experience, when something negative happens, it's important to sort out quickly what the cause of the problem was.  For example, when a child learns to ride a bicycle, if s/he falls, it's important to get the child back on the bike quickly in order to complete the positive nature of the experience.  Removing the child at the point of negative experience tends to leave in place a negative experience about bicycles. Thus, when we allow guilt to fester, to remain unresolved, there is a danger of extending the neural negative association beyond where it is appropriate.

Returning to the chair, if I allow the experience of the broken chair to sit in my mind, or to affect my impression of all chairs, then my doubt is harmful to me.  On the other hand, if I come to realize that "this chair" has a specific attribute or flaw, then my "doubt" is resolved: I have a justified belief that such attributes or flaws are the issue, and not all chairs. Once I know the truth, then my faith is restored in chairs, albeit with a new-found exception.  My schema has been altered by this experience, or in much simpler terms: I have learned something.

This is what I might call "experiential learning", or "learning through our own experience to distinguish good and evil".  It is a powerful method of teaching and learning.  It involves making mistakes, experiencing doubt, and by resolving doubt at the point of experience, we become more intelligent and enlightened beings.  Being open to doubt allows us to be humble: to recognize that we could be wrong, and then to correct it based upon the new facts.

Doubt as the Antithesis of Authoritarian Faith
In the military metaphor and in the example of the chair, "faith" was a learned behavior -- a trust in something that empowered action.  For stripling warriors, their action in faith, without doubting, empowered them to be successful in their military endeavors.  In the case of the chair, my faith in the usefulness of a chair means I can confidently act -- to sit down on the chair and make use of it.

I have no doubt that unresolved doubt is nearly the opposite of faith.   One cannot trust in faith that which one does not trust due to doubt.  But what kind of "faith" fears doubt?  If doubt is a necessary part of learning, then shouldn't doubt be part of the enhancement of our faith?  Once I understand what flaws there are in certain chairs, then is not my faith more mature in chairs?

To answer these questions, we need to go back to the concept of our mental schema -- how we construct what we believe within our minds.  There is another type of learning than "experiential learning".  We call it "indoctrination", and it is used by authoritarian systems to instill the principles required by the system. 

Authoritarian systems dictate a specific, hierarchal schema of knowledge and behavior.  The hierarchal nature of the schema is due to the underlying core principles of the authoritarian system -- the autocratic rule it must instill upon its adherents.  Within fundamental religions, the core principles are that an authoritarian god has dictated his will verbatim to his prophets, and that this prophetic word is infallible and inerrant.

Authoritarian systems often try to monopolize the education process.  We see examples of this in the way the Taliban have attempted to terrorize teachers and children within secular schools, and the push toward teaching creationism or "intelligent design" in order to preserve the infallibility of the literal interpretation of the Bible. 

Authoritarian systems use the process of "indoctrination" to create in the minds of adherents their specific hierarchal schema, or tree-structure, of knowledge of good and evil.  Concepts such as infallibility and inerrancy are used to connect this schema with the emotional feeling of certainty.  Distinctly illogical concepts and behaviors are taught as being essential, in order to alter the adherent's ability to use logic as a means to determine truth -- instead, "truth" is defined within the bounds of the schema, and anything else is suspect.

Doubt in the authoritarian teaching is considered a weakness, and is never countenanced.  Thus, adherents in an authoritarian system tend to have to put aside feelings of doubt, and embrace the authoritarian schema without questioning or doubt.  Manipulative techniques such as splitting ("You're either for us or against us", "It's either all true or the biggest fraud in history"), combined with lock-in techniques holding entire families into the system and shunning those who doubt create a hostile environment for any doubt.

When Doubt Leads to Faith Crisis

Authoritarian control over doubt does not last forever, particularly in today's climate of open information sharing via the internet and other means.  As the adherent to an authoritative faith schema shelves doubt, at some point, the doubt is too overwhelming to ignore. 

I think of this moment of faith crisis is a collapse of the authoritarian schema.  When the core principles of infallibility are questioned and found wanting, and when the authoritarian approach has been to split the adherent with the false, "all or nothing" dichotomy, then all the values and doctrines associated with the hierarchal, dogmatic schema are likely to collapse as well.  The adherent in such a condition finds him or herself without an anchor within the faith.  To those friends and family still within the authoritarian system, such a faith collapse is seen as simply the working of evil "doubt" or the influence of "Satan", "the World", or other such sources.  To those still in the system, faith collapse and doubt are simply weaknesses or trials to overcome.  Friends and family will hope and pray that the doubter will return to the blissful position of full faith.

This forces a choice on the doubter: either to ignore the cognitive dissonance caused by flaws in the core principles of the authoritarian system, or to leave the system entirely, if no middle ground is found. 

Let me explore concrete examples.  For those in Christian fundamentalist systems that insist in biblically inerrancy, infallibility, and literalism, the creation stories are not to be questioned.  Miracles stated in the New Testament that are clearly outside of scientific possibility are literal facts.  When a person within that system learns the history and origin of scripture as taught by sholars, coupled with legitimate science, then the literalism becomes untenable: The earth was not created in six days or even six thousand years.  Adam and Eve did not live at the same time based upon DNA analysis, and death was not introduced into the world by virtue of partaking of forbidden fruit.  These are clearly and unambiguously myths, embraced by a semitic tribe and incorporated into the Torah used by Jesus and his followers.

To Mormons, the sacred experience is the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham.  These are posited as absolute evidence that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God and restored the original Church of Jesus Christ on the earth.  Doubters in the literalism of the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham are effectively shunned in the Church: the former apologists who left the Maxwell Institute to form their own self-appointed "Interpreter of Mormon Scripture" categorically reject any non-literal approach to the Book of Mormon as incoherent and apostate.  Yet, the evidence against Book of Mormon literalism is overwhelming, and the evidence against the Book of Abraham is concrete and absolute: Joseph Smith did not know how to translate egyptian heiroglypics.  Period.

Mormons are particularly attuned to prophetic infallibility.  Questioning leaders or doubting that which is proclaimed at General Conerence will find one on the way to apostasy and within a church court if one is not careful.  Statements like "The Lord will never lead the prophet astray" must be reconciled with flawed principles such as "Adam-God" and "Blacks and the Priesthood" -- indeed the Prophets did lead the the prophet astray and all the members along with him in many occasions.  Early leaders warned against the principle of prophetic infallibility, but today's church instills it in children from the earliest years of primary.

Where does that lead the person who no longer can accept scriptural or prophetic infalliblity?

As I see it, there are some ways through this faith crisis:
  1. I can return to full faith, ignoring the evidence that these texts are mythological qne that prophets have always been fallible.  The challenge is that doubt will always be in the my schema.  I will have to live with unresolved doubt, trying to reconcile scientific fact with scriptural and prophetic infallibility and literalism.  Living with such cognitive dissonance and doubt can adversely affect the soul, and prevent me from embracing the full spectrum of truth and life.
  2. I can pretend.  This is to live in constant conflict with the faith system, and to struggle constantly with personal integrity and authenticity.  While I may have resolved cognitive dissonance by simply rejecting faith, the lack of authenticity of this path is cancerous to the soul.
  3. I can leave the faith system entirely.  True, there may be consequences to friends and family who remain behind in the faith, but if personal integrity is important, then perhaps my friends and family will understand.  They often do not, and this path often does not retain those family and friend relationships.
  4. I can adopt a Middle Way -- one where I am in charge of my spirituality, and while I may participate in a given faith system, I no longer am bound to its authoritarian control of my personal faith schema.  I am honest about my personal beliefs or lack thereof, but at the same time, compassionate and accommodating of those who don't share my beliefs. Of the three, this is not only the least common, it may be the most difficult.
It may be obvious that I favor the Middle Way approach.  I have tried all of them, and found them wanting.  On the other hand, the Middle Way has helped me embrace the good things of my chosen religion, while being open to many possibilities from many different sources.