Friday, December 12, 2008

About getting spiritual answers

(Read comments to previous post if you're just coming to this discussion)

Knowing Coop and Josh both very well, I understand where they are both coming from. Myself, personally, I am more like Josh here. And speaking 'within the tent' of our own religion as we are here, I feel comfortable saying that although my sentiments agree with Josh, and certainly my understanding of theology is way more like Josh's than like MDH's, my religious practice and faith is likely to remain unaffected.

I have had spiritual experiences that have made it clear to me that I have a stake in and a duty towards the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That is perhaps not everyone's definition of "testimony", but it's close enough to mine to be operative here.

This means that even though, like Josh, I am more likely to experience these events as a spiritual storm than as a bold confirmation of faith, my faith is that I will weather the storm, and that it will be over soon enough. In that sense, I consider myself fortunate not to be what we might term a 'universalist', for whom all things of faith depend on all other things being infallible. I don't even actually know who MDH is, but I think his or her declarations here but him or her squarely in this category. Maybe he or she would disagree, that's not really the point.

If it isn't fair to use MDH as an example, I'll turn to Coop, who I have had many long discussions on subjects like this with, spanning several decades and many campouts. He and I do not see things the same way, and I accept this about us, treasure it even. (Those of you not of our faith, or not of any faith, just assume for a moment that there are such things as spiritual promptings and personal [bidirectional] communication with the Divine). Coop believes (correct me if I misrepresent, Coop) that 10 times out of 10, if you're in tune with spiritual promptings, you will reach the same answer as everyone else who is in tune with spiritual promptings.

I, quite simply, believe nothing of the kind.I can (indeed, must) separate my belief in God and even my sustainment of the President of the Church from the decisions and day-to-day operations of the Church and from the actions or views of its members. I have to believe that I can pray and receive an answer, and Josh can pray and receive an answer, and Coop and MDH can both pray and receive answers, and each of us can get it heart-and-soul confirmed to us that we're getting the right answer, and all answers can be different. If the other point of view is a theory of Universalist Truth, call this one an idea of Emergent Truth. One is top-down, the other bottom-up.

I'm not sure I'm articulating this very well. Let's just put it out there and see what kind of holes get poked.

10 comments:

Josh said...

Interesting comments. It's a good way to frame the topic, which has now completely diverged from the original topic (imo).

Like you, I have to believe in the Emergent Truth Theory. At this point, I have no other choice, really.

The alternative is to believe that some of the people in the conversation are either a) faithless or b) being swayed by opposing forces.

Since I'm not willing nor ready to believe that to be the case, I have to believe that we just receive different answers.

That leads to the interesting question of why that is. Like all things with faith in an Omniscient being, perhaps we can never really know the answer.

I believe the relationship with God to be very personal. And I'm willing to believe that we all receive personalized answers.

Also, it is quite possible that the answer isn't so much the direct answer, but the answer that will lead us down the correct path.

Though we may all receive different answers, it is quite possible that we all end up in the same 'right' place... or the 'right' place for us anyway.

I'm interested to read further comments on this topic.

Josh said...

Since no one has responded yet, I'll just respond to a second point in your post.

It is interesting that you describe the current situation as more a spiritual storm that you know that you will weather. That is certainly an apt description. Perhaps we will both weather it and you are just more sure of it.

But I liken the situation to a different analogy. I imagine that as a member of the church, I am swimming in the Pool of Faith (PoF). It is a huge swimming pool, suspended in mid air, surrounded on all sides by glass.

Someone just did a major cannonball into the PoF. It was a spectacular event, but it left a crack on the bottom of the pool.

Now I am no expert in PoF repair. It could be that such cracks will be repaired through means that I have heretofore undiscovered.

It could also be that the crack will remain, but the PoF will remain strong through my years and never leak or bust. It could be that although I may worry about that crack, it poses no real threat and will never compromise my swimming.

But it could also be that one day someone else will take a giant cannonball into the pool and make another crack. And then another. And then eventually, the bottom of the PoF will give out and I will be discharged along with the water.

Now the particularly distressing part of all this is that the pool rules clearly state that there should be no cannonballs. The lifeguards are very vigilant and have the best training. The pools waters are exceptionally important, and the tank itself is necessary to facilitate all to swim in its waters.

But sometimes the lifeguards mess up. And in this case that resulted in a crack in the PoF. Will the lifeguards fix it before another is made? Do the lifeguards care that they have allowed this rule to be broken this one time?

Or do the lifeguards believe that they understand the structural integrity of the pool extremely well, and feel that the calculated and occasional cannonball will not damage the overall strength of the tank?

I honestly don't know what the lifeguards think, but I do know that I am currently swimming in a pool that has a rather conspicuous crack in the bottom. That worries me a lot and makes my swimming unpleasant.

Over time I may find that I trust that the crack will not fail, or I may see the lifeguards come in to repair the crack. Or I may find that I just cannot swim in the pool with it being so potentially unsafe.

I guess only time will tell, but I sure liked my PoF better when it had no cracks.

Coop said...

Hearing what Josh and Dave have said, my first inclination would be to examine the nature of those spiritual feelings/promptings/answers, to make sure we're talking about the same thing. When I hear people in the Church talk about "feeling the Spirit" or “answers to prayer” I am usually pretty careful about how I accept it, or what I take it to mean, because I believe “feeling the Spirit” can refer to more than one kind of feeling or spiritual experience.

We often say, "I prayed to know what to do and I felt good (or felt peace) about my decision." I have experienced these "good feelings" and peaceful feelings many times, but these alone are not enough for me to trust. I have had good, happy, peaceful, and uplifting feelings about a lot of things while considering BOTH sides of issues. But I believe that a personal revelation by the Spirit is something more. I can only speak from my own experience, but for me a personal revelation is something distinct from those good and peaceful feelings. It has a distinct taste or flavor. There probably aren't words to describe it, but scriptural words like "burning," "flash of inspiration," "pure spirit," and "light" (if light were a feeling) approach it for me. For me, these spiritual impressions are relatively rare, compared to the warm, good feelings I often feel at church, in the temple, etc.

Here’s one example of how I distinguish the two. When my wife and I were first married we had the choice of attending one ward (congregation) composed entirely of young married couples or another ward of families/individuals of all different ages and stations in life. We decided to go to each and decide which we liked better. We went to the first and really liked it. I had good, warm, peaceful feelings and I believe I felt the Spirit's presence/influence there. We went to the next ward and felt the exact same kind of feelings. I believe I could say that I "felt the Spirit" in both cases. But there was one distinction. As I sat in one of the congregations, there was a moment (it only lasted a second or two) when I felt a "flash" of the Spirit bearing that distinct flavor and accompanied by an impression/message that unmistakably meant "this is the right place." This was one of many such experiences and these are the spiritual feelings I know I can trust. In response to Dave's statement, yes, when we're talking about this kind of revelation, and when people are discerning correctly, I believe 10 out of 10 people will get the same answer. But if you're talking about "good feelings"--even Galatians 5 feelings--the "answers" people get will run the gamut.

Josh said...

By that viewpoint the Church can never be wrong. If I do not come to the same conclusion as the Church via the spirit, then I am just improperly asking or do not have enough faith to get the right answer?

Is it not a dangerous proposition to go the Lord with an answer already in hand?

I guess perhaps that really gets down to it. Perhaps there is a difference between asking:

A) For confirmation that the Church's stance on homosexual marriage is correct.

or

B) For the answer as to whether homosexual marriage should be legal.

If I am understanding, the implication is that I'm supposed to be asking for A, and never B.

But if we are all to receive the same answer on A, then I would be left with:

A) Yes
B) Yes

In my mind, those seem mutually exclusive. How can both homosexual marriage be legal AND the Church's opposition to it be correct?

Perhaps there is a way of rectifying that paradox, but it is very hard for me.

I have said before, and I will reiterate. I support the Church morally opposing gay marriage. I support their decision to deny the right to a temple marriage to homosexual couples.

That is their right as a religious and private organization.

But that is not the same thing as legally opposing gay marriage. They are drastically different in my opinion, and that is where the line was crossed.

Rob said...

subscribing to comments

Geary said...

I have read the comments on this blog with interest and fascination. Many of you are people I know. I have watched you grow up, and I am nearly overwhelmed to see how you have turned out to be such competent, thinking adults. MDH – I still have the pictures I took of you and your sisters to give to your father on Father’s Day. But I digress already, and I have hardly begun. Proposition 8, I suspect, is just an excuse for a discussion on spirituality, faith, and religion. This is a very good discussion, and I find much that I agree with in the comments – that is, I like the thinking that is reflected here.

Let me just put my two cents worth in here on Prop. 8 so I can turn to other aspects of this discussion: In my view, identical rights under the law should be available to all forms of households. By this I mean things like insurance, inheritance, dependency, guardianship, and the like. In front of a court of law, or before any governmental administration whatever, there should be no distinction between how “married” heterosexual families, and legally joined families of any other sort, are treated. But because the word “marriage” is burdened with a lot of emotional history, much of the turmoil is over the use of the word itself, rather than the legal privileges of the people involved. But because moral equivalence, or acceptance, is not a legal right, if the use of the specific word “marriage” is meant to imply identical acceptance or moral equivalence for alternative lifestyles – and I suspect this is the central issue for many of the antagonists on this issue – then there will be many people who simply will not be able to bring themselves to accept that usage. The very meaning of the word would be changed – some would say destroyed.

If there were to be no unintended consequences, I wouldn’t care about the use of the word. But as Dave argues, there might be some unintended consequence. I have worked for the government nearly all my life, and goodness knows I have seen my share of unintended consequences, so the concern is not unjustified. If we could see what those consequences would be, of course, they would no longer be unintended. The problem is that they come as a surprise – usually a nasty surprise – and undoing something the government has done is nearly impossible, so those consequences tend to remain forever.

I was also going to write somewhat on the subject of religion, faith, and revelation, but perhaps here is not the place to do so. If Dave opens up THAT subject, I will write more.

dave said...

Thanks, Dad. The religion/revelation subject is entirely open. Go ahead!

Rich said...

So I will take a different tact. I don't believe even if God wanted to, that he would answer every prayer. Consequently, I don't believe that 10 times out of 10 (or, necessarily, any times out of any given 10) that God provides a specific "correct" answer.

I believe God created us to be thinking, rational beings. This ability to process information, to interpret and extrapolate, goes hand-in-hand with our free will. It is from this viewpoint that scriptural study becomes so vital. While much can be said of the confirmation by the spirit, I believe James's admonition to study it out in your mind equally applies.

In this way, the more you study the life of Christ and other religious leaders, and the more you truly align yourself with their vision (the ol' WWJD), the more naturally inclined you will be to reach aligned decisions and conclusions.

Now, to hear the Spirit described in the Bible, it is usually in confirmation of specific acts of faith. Thus it could more rightly be expected to speak truth to us while studying the life of Jesus, and confirming the stories and actions he took, than to bear witness to the correct fast-food joint to patron for lunch.

That said, obviously people who are closely aligned to a viewpoint will often come to the same conclusion. Indeed, that is the point of the scriptures: to get people aligned.

I believe in that sense the Spirit is a guide to spiritual alignment, not a Magic 8-Ball to be consulted for every decision. For the latter, we have the aforementioned reason and free will.

That's just my opinion, anyway (for what it's worth).

richintheory said...

So I will take a different tact. I don't believe even if God wanted to, that he would answer every prayer. Consequently, I don't believe that 10 times out of 10 (or, necessarily, any times out of any given 10) that God provides a specific "correct" answer.

I believe God created us to be thinking, rational beings. This ability to process information, to interpret and extrapolate, goes hand-in-hand with our free will. It is from this viewpoint that scriptural study becomes so vital. While much can be said of the confirmation by the spirit, I believe James's admonition to study it out in your mind equally applies.

In this way, the more you study the life of Christ and other religious leaders, and the more you truly align yourself with their vision (the ol' WWJD), the more naturally inclined you will be to reach aligned decisions and conclusions.

Now, to hear the Spirit described in the Bible, it is usually in confirmation of specific acts of faith. Thus it could more rightly be expected to speak truth to us while studying the life of Jesus, and confirming the stories and actions he took, than to bear witness to the correct fast-food joint to patron for lunch.

That said, obviously people who are closely aligned to a viewpoint will often come to the same conclusion. Indeed, that is the point of the scriptures: to get people aligned.

I believe in that sense the Spirit is a guide to spiritual alignment, not a Magic 8-Ball to be consulted for every decision. For the latter, we have the aforementioned reason and free will.

That's just my opinion, anyway (for what it's worth).

dave said...

Late to the party, Rich, but I'm absolutely, 100% in agreement.