Making Peace with the Loss of Certainty

One of the more difficult things that came with recognizing that the Mormon Church wasn’t 100%, literally “True” was that this paradigm shift introduced incredible levels of uncertainty into my knowledge of God and the purpose of life. Previously, I knew that if I was in good standing with the LDS Church (i.e., temple-worthy), I was therefore in good standing with God. I knew that there was a God, and what He looked like (i.e., an exalted human being, with us mortals cast in his image). I knew that the afterlife would look much like life now – I would continue to be married to Monsieur Curie, and Le Petit Curie would continue to be our son.

Early on in my disaffection, Mr. C voiced that he was uncomfortable thinking of the Church as not literally True, because of all the certainty it gave him. He rested on a cusp, considering whether giving up that certainty would be worthwhile.

But here’s the rub: Just because you believe something is literally fact doesn’t make it so. Sure, I could have chosen to avoid reading anything that would threaten my testimony of the Mormon Church, content with my blinders. But I knew that there was evidence out there that, as a rational and logical person, I could not ignore. I chose to eat the fruit, and with it brought uncertainty into my world.

I no longer know Who or What God is, or whether my “spiritual” experiences are from a power higher than me, or if they are my subconscious.

I no longer know if my self-aware state will extend beyond my physical death.

I no longer know whether my marriage is an earthly institution, or whether it will last forever.

With knowledge that the Mormon Church was not True, I lost my “knowledge” of eternity.

Certainly, there are worse things in life than uncertainty. Inauthenticity, as Andrew S. has pointed out, is one. I do not feel that I have traded down in my quest for understanding. I would make the same choices again that I made in the past year. But to deny the consequences that loss of faith incurs would be irresponsible and dishonest. I have come to peace with many of these issues. I have chosen to confront particular areas of uncertainty, and to deal with them head-on. For example, the threat of an afterlife-less reality is frightening. But I choose to accept that this may be the case, and to treasure each day that I do have. Suddenly, 30 seems very, very old. I have so much to do, and only about 50 years left to do it!

I would not say that I am “at peace with uncertainty“. The mere fact that I have chosen to confront the uncertainties in my life, and make decisions based on possible outcomes, rules out “peace with uncertainty” by definition – there is nothing “uncertain” about choosing to live as though there is no afterlife. However, I can say that I am “at peace with the loss of certainty” in my life. I am no longer a slave to absolutes.

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18 Responses

  1. That was a tough hurdle for me. It feels soo good to think that you’ve got all the important answers.

  2. TGD says:

    I now think of uncertainty is infinite possibilities where I now have absolute control.

  3. Steve EM says:

    Whether one remains LDS or not, has anybody ever gone back to what they were after following the white rabbit? You know, like the Joey Pants’ character attempted in The Matrix movies? Is the scary part the profound early on realization you cant ever go back and can only plod forward w/o the answers you thought you had?

  4. Paul says:

    I identify with what you have written. But heres the rub: Are you 100% absolutely sure that the LDS church is not what it claims to be or are you 99.9…% sure? I cant speak for you, but I am sure you realize that there are many ways of looking at this whole one true church dilemma. Are you (and me) sure that there is not something that is not being realized? If you are 100% sure, then in essence you are calling a lot of GAs liars. They say (testify) that this work is true. They say they know beyond doubt as ‘special witnesses’ that Christ is what they teach and that this is His one and only. They reiterate that there are those who will be fooled by “the craftiness of men” and not obtain the blessings of the highest glory. This is very serious stuff and a lot is at risk. Are you sure-sure?! I am considering going back, paying a full tithe again and try, try, try to endure and work my way through this dilemma. I greatly fear going down a path that will lead me to the state of that “night of darkness” wherein it will too late because the spark will have been absolutely extinguished. This is very serious when you affirm that you had a witness by the Holy Ghost ‘to some degree’ at least, and you are *commanded* to endure and remain faithful. Very frightening; very disturbing. I don’t know if you (and me) can ever really walk away and ever feel good about it, Fowler’s “Stages of Faith” and anything else notwithstanding.

  5. chanson says:

    If you are 100% sure, then in essence you are calling a lot of GAs liars. They say (testify) that this work is true. They say they know beyond doubt as special witnesses that Christ is what they teach and that this is His one and only.

    The GA’s are a drop in the bucket compared to the total number of religious leaders who have made claims to have miraculous knowledge of what God is (or the gods are) like. If the others’ reports are in contradiction with the GAs’ (and with each other), doesn’t it bother you to call those other holy people liars?

    I can’t speak for Mme Curie, but as far as I’m concerned, the GA’s aren’t lying as long as what they’re saying is what they actually believe to be true. I don’t find it hard to believe that the 12 honestly believe that they have been called by God to be special witnesses of Christ (whatever that means to each one personally).

    You’ll note that they don’t claim to have seen JC in the flesh. All those stories of the prophet meeting with Jesus live in the holy-of-holies of the Salt Lake temple are just that — stories. Faith-promoting rumors that circulate through the membership, that the leaders don’t encourage (nor discourage).

  6. Madame Curie says:

    Steve– Some people do go back to the Mormon church after completely losing “faith”, as evidenced by folks like John Dehlin and others at StayLDS. I think that your perception changes dramatically, though. You no longer believe in things the same way you did as a TBM; you view things more as mythos than logos.

    I understand what you mean, though – the beginning shock of realizing that it will never be the same is incredibly frightening. I recall that when I first became disaffected, I thought I could continue trying to believe. Then I found that church history Sunday School lessons just made me frustrated and with a swollen tongue.

    Paul – I think what you describe is valid and does hold a lot of sway for some people, and may be what keeps them in the Church for so long, in spite of doubts they may have. That fear is also what keeps people from questioning in the first place.

    As far as calling the GAs “liars,” I don’t look at it like that at all. They have things they believe, but that doesn’t mean that I have to believe it. People in every faith have died for their beliefs, but it doesn’t make any one more “True” than another (although it may keep adherents from questioning things). Probably the most compelling testimony I ever heard was from a Hindi friend, but I wouldn’t call him a “liar” because I personally don’t believe the same things he does. I wouldn’t call him deluded or anything else derogatory, either. I think he believes what he believes, and has found it has brought him immense joy and satisfaction in his life. He has tasted the fruit, and it was delicious, and now desires to share it with others. I think the same is true for the GAs.

    When I said in my initial post that the Church “wasn’t 100%, literally ‘True,'” I was NOT saying “I am 100% certain that the church isn’t True”. What I had realized was that the Church wasn’t everything it had claimed to be – not that it wasn’t anything worthwhile.

    For me personally, I feel no real need to define any church as “true” or “false”. I think there are a lot of good religions that do a lot of good for people. Mormonism included. However, (and I say this often because I think its entirely necessary to understand my POV) I am an adult convert. I see things through a different lens than those born and raised in the church. When I joined the church, I wasn’t looking for the “one and only True church on the face of the planet”. I was looking for a good place to worship, and an uplifting community. When the church became toxic for me, that was all the “proof” I needed that it wasn’t a good place for me.

    Furthermore, I believe that just because someone is a GA doesn’t give them any more special cred than I give the Catholic Pope or Bishops. I think they are all inspired for the work they do and the churches they lead, but that doesn’t make them the only ones to speak for God.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  7. That’s interesting how adult converts relate differently to GAs than those born in the Church. It seems commonsense in hindsight, but thanks for bolding that. I can imagine in Mormon culture the viewpoints of adult converts are considered less — like they reel you in and then you’re expected to play catch up. What they really want is your children…cuz they’ll dream the voices of those GAs….mwuhahaha!

  8. aerin says:

    Thanks for this post Madame Curie.

    I think there is some debate, even within very faithful LDS circles about what eternity would/will look like (just like with many religious traditions).

    I don’t want to get into the debate of what the nature of the afterlife in the celestial kingdom would be here – but there is some controversy. (Would you really be with your son, or would he be on his own world with his wife, etc.)

    I’m not bringing this up to be difficult, but just to say that I have heard many believing members over the years who have said “we’ll ask Christ when we see him after we die”; as an answer to a wide range of questions.

    It’s not that they don’t have firm or secure testimonies, it’s that there are things they themselves have questions about – that they can’t explain through the scriptures or what have you. That doesn’t make them (those believing members) liars. That doesn’t negate their beliefs. There are things that they are uncertain about. I think I could also find quotes from General Authorities (I can think of some off the top of my head from former pres. Gordon B. Hinckley) where they were unsure of certain points of doctrine.

    Sometimes what’s being said is simply that they haven’t had a spiritual/personal witness of a particular piece of doctrine.

    So I personally don’t think being uncertain (or not being able to explain things) is unusual for the mormon faith. Of course there is quite a lot that members will say that they know is true.

    It sounds (to me) that now you simply have different things you are uncertain or unsure about (i.e., whether or not the priesthood was restored, the Book of Mormon the word of God, agreement with the proclamation on the family) than many faithful mormons. It may be a difficult journey to redefine your beliefs – and accepting there are some things you may not ever be certain of.

    As far as what you’re talking about – your own journey and process – I can certainly understand and relate to realizing there are no guarantees – things you thought were true or real may not be.

    In the end, however, I’ve found there is a lot less that I have to understand or be sure of now that I’m no longer faithful LDS. I don’t have to impress anyone or convince anyone that my faith is the true one. I don’t have to be sure of the doctrine of polygamy, or try to reconcile DNA with the Book of Mormon, explain the “Miracle of Forgiveness” or the Book of Abraham. I’ve found it’s easier to find peace in my own beliefs now that they are easier to defend.

  9. ff42 says:

    Madame Curie,

    Thank you for sharing this. I too have faced this uncertainty ‘monster’, confronted it, and now almost rejoice in my not being certain. It forces me to re-examine my thoughts and motives – to be good for goodness sake.

    Paul: Is teaching someone to lie just as bad as lying? Nearly every general conference ‘the Brethren’ instruct the members to bear false witness in the form of “If you do not know that it is true, then bear your testimony until it becomes true”. Can you imagine a witness in a trial receiving this instruction?

  10. Paul says:

    Madame Curie, thank you for your indulgence by responding. I don’t know what the ‘rules’ of engagement are on your site (I just happened upon it), so I may be ‘engaging’ you when I shouldn’t be. In any event, it’s a worthwhile exercise to help me sort things out in my mind.

    You wrote:
    “For me personally, I feel no real need to define any church as true or false. I think there are a lot of good religions that do a lot of good for people.”

    Yes, that’s fine for you if have come to some resolution, but the *Church* (with a capital ‘C’) feels a real need to *define itself* as not just ‘a’ true church, but the ‘the one and only’ true church.

    Surely you agree that from the Church’s POV the implications of this are enormous being that the tenets and solid doctrines of the Church as explicated especially in the Doctrine and Covenants and to some extent in the Peal of Great Price, have ‘defined’ what’s going to happen to me (and to you, I fear as well) if we apostatize; if we “rob God” by not paying His Church “a full and honest tithe”; if we don’t sustain His chosen leaders as prophets, seers, and revelators; if we don’t attend *all* our meetings faithfully, do our home teaching faithfully, accept all callings when extended to us, “lengthen our strides,” hold a valid temple recommend and search out our dead and do their vicarious saving ordinances work, etc. And these are just some of the *must do’s* if we don’t want to jeopardize our “calling and election” in order to live in the presence of God the Father and our family in the eternities. There are also all of the *should and shouldn’t do’s* like do not view R-rated movies, constantly pray and read the scriptures, attend the temple regularly, visit the sick, widows and similar others, give “all that you can” in time and money offerings to the Church, (and ‘all’ period if asked to, even your very life) etc.

    You say you are at peace with uncertainty and no longer a slave to absolutes, but the Church *is* absolutist in its declarations — its ‘Constitution of Dependance’ you could say, about where it stands in the WHOLE scheme of things and where we need to be standing along side of and with it.

    But if you are like me and no longer *feel* it (the Spirit??), what do you do? I mean escaping the karmic wheel of samsara pales in comparison with attempting to escape the wheel of LDS cognitive dissonance. At this point in my life I’m old. Some would say, “Nah, you’re oldER, not old.” No, the end is just around the corner and for many years I’ve been able to endure and turn a blind eye to a lot of things that have occurred to me personally (and to my family in certain ways as well). But especially now that I have had time to read more and have had more resources made available to me (the Internet and books, books and more books), and unburdened time to contemplate more, in a sense I feel like I have blown a fuse in my brain rather than turning on more light switches. These opportunities have not given me peace, but a great deal of angst. It’s interesting to note that even before I began more arduously attempting to enlighten my mind (or polluting it, a TBM would affirm) I’ve always had some sort of natural suspicions about the Church that bothered me.

    So, when you stated: “When the church became toxic for me, that was all the proof I needed that it wasnt a good place for me.” is what finally happened to me and my wife when we moved into a new area and were not really accepted, and after a long time gave up trying to be. Sure, they were nice and flashed their plastic smiles and greetings, but that was it — so different from the other ward. And so, every Sunday it became more pointless and even hurtful to go. This, I might add was compounded by the painful effect of those inane and often mis- and dis- informative Sunday School and Priesthood lesson manual lessons (I think you stated something along this line as well).

    So, again like you we had our own particular “proof” (socially and doctrinally) that it wasn’t a good place to be either, but that still doesn’t mitigate the *implications* of our decisions to dissociate ourselves with the Church that claims it is the *only* one that can lead us to highest degree of salvation, i.e, be with our families and in the presence of God in the eternities. And no other religion teaches this *so emphatically and definitively*, which on the face of it makes for a neat and complete package for most of us (unless you have been a victim or affected by a temple cancelation of sealing involving your children, as well as some other ‘complications’ that the official Church has no explanation or remedy for, but sloughs it off with, “The Lord will decide and sort it out when the right time comes along.”).

    You speak of “the rub” and I speak of “the rub,” but all this does is ‘rub me the wrong way.’ That’s why I put forth the implication regarding ‘liars.’ The GAs say they KNOW. They say “lean on our testimonies until you get your own.” They, at the very least, *imply* that they have a ‘special’ knowledge commensurate to their ‘special’ calling. Hence, if indeed the Church is NOT what they claim it to be, then these aspects make them complicit by promulgating falsehoods for the purpose of deluding (duping) people. The only way to cut them any slack about this is that they are totally clueless about the effect their over zealous (although well-intentioned, some would state) words, be them sermons, declarations or what have you, have on the minds of the Church’s members both young and old, BIC or as a convert.

    I take my personal salvation and that of my family serious. That’s who I am. But at the same time I like and acknowledge what you said in a previous post “As an artist must create, so must an intellectual think, read, and question.” as being very germane in this case. Not to say I am by any means an ‘intellectual,’ but I do have a brain that I don’t want to, as someone once said, “check at the door when I go to church.”

    How do you deal with this notion that we are a “covenant people” chosen or called by God or have made the choice ourselves to take up His cross and to do a special work, although “the workers are few”? What are we jeopardizing if we drop the ball and one day when we no longer look “through a glass darkly” discover that they were not liars, but just men called to a particular work trying to do the best they can “under certain circumstances”? Are we really that smart, that spiritually attuned and enlightened to conclude with certainty we have it figured out, or discovered a man behind the curtain, or that the emperor really doesnt have any clothes on (although HE may think he does)?

    At the present moment I don’t see any real, actualized peace on my horizon either in this life or in the one coming up fast after it. Maybe that’s why I am thinking that perhaps I should just go back and pay up and shut up.

    Still, this tentative resolution (or accommodation), which may be viewed as a self administered lobotomy pursuant to mythos, logos, modern-day revelation inaugurating *the* divine, last dispensation, or parts of all three, is much easier said than done.

    Viewer discretion advised! It’s going to get messy — my brain is coming out!

    Ive written too much.

  11. chanson says:

    Paul — that’s a fascinating story. If you don’t have your own blog, would you consider writing a post for Main Street Plaza about your ideas and experiences?

  12. MisterCurie says:

    Surely you agree that from the Churchs POV the implications of this are enormous being that the tenets and solid doctrines of the Church as explicated especially in the Doctrine and Covenants and to some extent in the Peal of Great Price, have defined whats going to happen to me (and to you, I fear as well) if we apostatize; if we rob God by not paying His Church a full and honest tithe; if we dont sustain His chosen leaders as prophets, seers, and revelators; if we dont attend *all* our meetings faithfully, do our home teaching faithfully, accept all callings when extended to us, lengthen our strides, hold a valid temple recommend and search out our dead and do their vicarious saving ordinances work, etc. And these are just some of the *must dos* if we dont want to jeopardize our calling and election in order to live in the presence of God the Father and our family in the eternities. There are also all of the *should and shouldnt dos* like do not view R-rated movies, constantly pray and read the scriptures, attend the temple regularly, visit the sick, widows and similar others, give all that you can in time and money offerings to the Church, (and all period if asked to, even your very life) etc.

    Oh crap were all going to hell. No one can live up to EVERYTHING the church requires.

    How do you deal with this notion that we are a covenant people chosen or called by God or have made the choice ourselves to take up His cross and to do a special work, although the workers are few?

    How do you deal with the fact that the Jews were the covenant people before the LDS? How many covenant people are there? Shouldnt all of Gods children be his covenant people? Maybe God just wants all his children to get back to him, so he sets up lots of religions that allow him to appeal to a large variety of people. Maybe God is just a human idea, although it has shaped civilizations and forever altered the history of the world, making it the most powerful and enduring human idea that never actually existed.

  13. profxm says:

    Paul, I’ll go out on a limb here (in opposition to some of my co-bloggers) and call the GAs liars. Here’s why: They are claiming to “know” something that they clearly just “believe.”

    chansons’ point is well-taken – they don’t meet the criteria of being liars regarding what they believe as they are not intentionally not telling the truth. So, they aren’t necessarily “lying” about exaltation and all their beliefs. But they are lying when they say they “know” these things are “true.” At best they believe these things to be true, but they don’t have knowledge. If they did, they would not require faith. They speak as though they have “knowledge” because that is more compelling to followers, but they don’t. I’m guessing they know the difference but also know that speaking in terms of “knowledge” is more compelling to followers, despite the fact that it is dishonest.

    Thus, there is a flaw in your question to Madame Curie. Your starting assumption is that the GAs have “knowledge” and that Madame Curie’s embrace of uncertainty makes her different from them because she is embracing “not-knowledge.” So, when you say, “Are you 100% certain?” you are actually using a different criteria for non-believers than you are for believers. The GAs aren’t 100% certain about their beliefs – that would be knowledge and they lack that. So, at best, they can very strongly hold their beliefs, but they aren’t 100% certain.

    I, on the other hand, am 100% certain that the GAs contradict the “truth” claims of thousands of other religious acolytes (as chanson pointed out). And I am 100% certain that this fact (which is knowledge) underlies the probability of all such truth claims being true. So long as all truth claims differ and exclude all others, then, at most, only 1 can be right. However, it is just as likely (if not more so) that none are right.

    But it is at this point that I move from certainty into uncertainty. I cannot be absolutely certain that any given truth claim is absolutely untrue (though I can be very confident that one is depending on the claim and its concomitant logic). So, once I assert that I don’t believe something, I have moved into the same realm of uncertainty that exists in religion. Just as the GAs strongly hold their beliefs (despite their dishonest claims of “knowledge”) I strongly hold that their beliefs are not true.

    While I don’t think it’s actually possible to calculate the probability of most truth claims actually being true (see our earlier discussion of these on here), I do think uncertainty regarding metaphysical truth claims is the most defensible logical position. If we turn to a classic issue – the existence of a deity (not omnipotent, not omniscient, and not actively involved in current affairs), a strong atheist who denies the existence of such a god is in only slightly less treacherous territory than is the theist who claims the existence of such a god. The agnostic who claims to lack any knowledge of such a god is in the strongest philosophical and logical position as that position is most strongly supported by the lack of all evidence for such an entity.

    Ergo, “uncertainty” is actual more plausible when it comes to metaphysical beliefs than is “certainty.” As a result, as Madame Curie argues, once you embrace this, it actually gives you a sense of peace. It doesn’t seem like it should, but it does. Why? Because once you admit uncertainty you have admitted that humans don’t know everything. And once you embrace that, the unknown is no longer something to fear. That is peace. That is enlightenment.

  14. kuri says:

    The GAs arent 100% certain about their beliefs that would be knowledge and they lack that. So, at best, they can very strongly hold their beliefs, but they arent 100% certain.

    I’m not sure that’s correct. It seems to imply that no one can be 100-percent certain of things that aren’t true. I don’t think that’s right.

    For example, for eons people were certain that the Sun rose in the east and set in the west. Yet now we know that that is actually an illusion, that it is actually the Earth’s rotation that makes it so that the Sun appears to rise and set.

    Did the fact that they were wrong make those people any less certain? Or did it merely mean they were certain of something that is false?

    And could that not be the case with at least some GAs? Regardless of the ontological truth of their claims, might not some of them be 100-percent certain of those claims in their own minds?

  15. profxm says:

    Someone can be more or less confident in a belief. But because a belief is not the same thing as knowledge, my take on it is that you can’t “know” a “belief.” If “knowing” means you have empirical evidence supporting the existence of something beyond any reasonable doubt such that any other reasonable person would agree that said thing exists (e.g., there is a sun), but knowing is different from believing, then I don’t think you can actually believe something 100%. Otherwise, that “belief” would be “knowledge,” which undermines any difference between the two.

    In short, GAs can be very confident in their beliefs, but the second they claim they have “knowledge” of a god or some other doctrinal claim they have lied. They can’t “know” that god exists, even if they are very confident that god exists. They also can’t know god’s will. At best they can be fairly confident of it. Ergo, any GA who claims to “know” anything supernatural (e.g., god’s will) is lying. He believes that he knows god’s will, but he doesn’t actually know it.

    Now, is it really lying? Well, if lying is willfully saying something you know is not true, then I guess this may be grey territory as GAs likely aren’t educated enough about philosophy to know the difference between belief and knowledge, but they should be. So, it may be stretching things to say they are lying, but they are certainly misleading people by claiming they have knowledge when they clearly do not.

  16. Paul says:

    I am not going to portent any expertise in either epistemology or semantics, except to say that its close relative, ‘truth’, is a constantly moving target. I know this because for one thing I know many (if indeed, all) things are in flux, which has a direct bearing on what is purported to be known or believed to be known at any particular time. Is it true that the sun will shine tomorrow? Most probably, but still its possible that it wont. In fact ‘I know’ that one day it absolutely wont because the sun will have gradually expended all of its energy becoming a red giant, and then a supernova. But of course, this is too extreme an example.

    Well then, I also know that my wife loves me (because she tells me and shows that she does)… today, but tomorrow? Who knows what *that* truth will be some day? Let’s hope, though, that this too will remain an extreme improbability. However, there is something that did change: I know that at one time I ardently ‘knew’ the LDS church was what it claims to be. So, did my knowledge or understanding of that affirmation or ‘truth’ undergo some sort of reconstruction? Or is it that perhaps I fell from grace because the scriptures state, my Spirit will not always strive with man; and isnt it by the ‘spirit’ that we ‘know’ the things of God for all things with God are spiritual — 1. And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had read these things which were engraven upon the plates of brass, my brethren came unto me and said unto me: What meaneth these things which ye have read? Behold, are they to be understood according to things which are spiritual, which shall come to pass according to the spirit and not the flesh?
    2. And I, Nephi, said unto them: Behold they were manifest unto the prophet by the voice of the Spirit; for by the Spirit are all things made known unto the prophets, which shall come upon the children of men according to the flesh

    This is my — our religion under the umbrella of our church — The Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-day Saints, not The Academic Academy of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Scholars. The premises and foundation upon what our church is built is that of ‘spiritual knowing’ based on faith, hope, belief, prayer and meditation, scripture study, personal feelings or perhaps ‘revelations,’ and striving to live as Christ would have us conduct our lives.

    I am not qualified to assert *what* Joseph Smith or any one else, including current GAs, ‘knew’ or *how* they knew or know; I can only speak for myself. And what I have to say about this whole matter is that for a long time now I feel as though I have been like the way in which, “chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves,”.

    I recall listening to Paul Toscano (one of the ‘September Six’) on John’s podcast interviews and hearing him state something to the effect that, “I lost my faith.” I took note of that statement because I knew ‘Elder’ Toscano while we were serving our missions in Italy at the same time. He was an extremely powerful, spirit-filled speaker at zone conferences — rock solid. So, was he lying when he spoke to us at that time? I don’t think so, and I don’t think he was in some way deluding himself or just acting out a role, either. I think it’s simply a matter that he really believed he ‘knew’ that the Church is what it claims either by spiritual means, or maybe it was only by reason and study alone, or a combination of the two. To be sure, I was certainly impressed at the time. But now, how does he impress me? I won’t go there, although I’m sure we can explain it as having been the naivet or exuberance or expectations of circumstances of a young, full-time missionary who had a gift for public speaking, or maybe he really was blessed with a ‘spiritual’ testimony at the time, but, like he said, ended up losing it.

    Okay, let’s cut to the chase. I know I’m in a state of perturbation right now. I know that I am somewhat afflicted with the dis-ease of cognitive dissonance, but I also know I am afflicted with the results of not fully and earnestly balancing human reason based upon historical data with that of seeking confirmations (to ‘know’) by way of the spirit, i.e., personal, spiritual revelation. I also know that I am smart enough to know that I am not very bright, otherwise I’d be more foolish than I already am. I don’t know — both spiritually and cognitively, a lot of things and I never will in this life even if I were to live another three score plus years. If Hugh Nibley ever did say anything that I thought was definitely tenable (I sometimes wonder about some of the things he has said and wrote) it was something to the effect that, “There is far, far more that we don’t know (re: church history) than we ever will.” And I trust he was referring to empirical evidences and the like.

    Let me conclude with a story. People like stories, so here’s one about me regarding a ‘spiritual’ experience I had that is germane to this subject of ‘knowing’.

    I was reading John L. Brooke’s book, The Refiners Fire – The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644, 1844 (I am currently reading something similar and very well researched: A Republic of Mind and Spirit – A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion, by Catherine L. Albanese). This was quite a few years ago, when I was actively participating in the church (attending regularly and serving in a calling at the time, I am sure). I was reading this fascinating stuff, things I was never even remotely aware of regarding the Smith family’s early history, and aspects of hermeneutics and cosmology, etc, involving Joseph Smith, and it was having a sort of jawing dropping affect — a sort of, “Whoa! What’s this all about?”. Then one day, while I’m reading this book, a ‘vision’ — a visual image ‘flashes’ or ‘pops up’ in my mind, along with a sound and ‘vocal message’. In this ‘vision’ or in my mind I saw this old, brass cash register just like the ones I used to see all time in the local shops when I was boy. I then ‘heard’ the ‘ching-ching’ sound you would hear when the cash drawer opened, and where you sometimes saw the words “No Sale” I clearly saw the word, “BUT” pop up concurrent with the ‘ching-ching’ sound. And then I ‘heard’ a very soft yet very distinct message — yes, you could describe it as being a “still, small voice.” It said something very close to these words: “Yes, this is (or, “that is”) very interesting, and a lot of this may (I think the word was “may,” or it could have been “is”) be true (or “correct”), BUT (there was slight emphasis and pause) the Church is still true.” And that was it. Brief, but very pronounced.

    Okay, that’s what happened. This was an experience I had and it remains very vivid in my memory to this day. So, what can you infer from this experience? Perhaps a lot of things. I think secular, atheistic psychologists, psychiatrists or even sociologists would have something to say about it. But they’ll never ‘know’ the real ‘truth’ of this matter. They will only have their theories. And you know what? I’ll never fully ‘know’ the ‘true’ aspects, dynamics, or *real* facts of this matter either, notwithstanding it was a real, and true experience that had implications attending it.

    So things like this (there are other ‘things’ as well) persist in my mind, and up until now these sorts of things have prevented me from throwing the baby out with the bath water, i.e. completely leaving the church. So, to come full circle, this is partly why, for me, anyway, truth has been a constantly moving target, in that sometimes I hit something that ratifies my faith, and sometimes I hit something that detracts from it.

  17. kuri says:


    My quibble was really with the idea of “certainty,” not “knowing.” While I don’t think people can “know” anything that is untrue, I think we can feel “certain” of things that are untrue (and often do). Other than that, I agree that, at best, testifying Mormons conflate belief with knowledge.

  18. profxm says:

    Kuri, we are in agreement.

    Paul, your story is “true” in the sense that it happened. No one would deny that it did. We could, of course, quibble over the cause, but why bother? If you want to attribute it to some unexplainable, supernatural source, that is your prerogative and little I can say can convince you otherwise. It sounds like you already know all the arguments about the power of the mind, so, again, why bother?

    It sounds to me like you’re right in the “stage” (I hate all things “stage” theory, particularly Fowler’s BS) of wondering whether you’d be better off staying in the LDS Church or not. No one can answer that for you but yourself. As you’ll see on this forum, there are plenty of people who have left who are quite happy. There are, of course, plenty who stay who are happy as well. I honestly can say that it doesn’t matter to me what way you go, so long as it is the best decision for you.

    So, if we can help you make a good decision for yourself, just let us know.

    As a final quibbling point – yes, little “t” truth does seem to change. That is even true for science – what we “know” today may change tomorrow. But the point of this discussion is that there are different ways of “knowing” – science relies on empirical, verifiable evidence. Religion, which doesn’t lead to “knowing” in the same sense but rather to belief, doesn’t. You can choose which you prefer. I like the reliability of science. I don’t like the unreliable nature of religion (e.g., pray for an answer and 99 times out of 100 you get nothing). The reliability of the “knowledge” is, of course, tied to the method of arriving at said knowledge. Ergo, you want reliability, go with science. You want answers to metaphysical questions that are basically wishes, go with religion. 😉

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