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.