The Rocky Shore

Monday, June 05, 2006

Agnosticism and Mormonism

A recent thread over at BBC on South Park, and in particular a comment by Ronan reminded me of an old Dialogue article I would like to devote my first thread to. The subject from BBC that sparked my memory was that of agnostic Mormons; Ronan stated that he knew many happy agnostic Mormons.

In the Dialogue article, Glen Hettinger laments the current state of LDS testimony meeting. I must agree that Mormons are overly anxious to proclaim that they 'know beyond a shadow of a doubt' anything of import. But what I find most especially interesting about Mr. Hettinger's article is his exegesis of Heb 11:1.


"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen"... The first key element of faith to the author of Hebrews is its object: one has to have faith in "elpizo" or something that is desired or wished for and in "things not seen." That is, the object of faith must be
something uncertain that the believer believes in despite its uncertainty. The second element of faith to the author of Hebrews is hidden to many modern readers of this passage by the archaic use of the word "substance" and "evidence" in the King James translation. The Greek text uses the words 'hupostasis" and "elegchos" for these concepts. "Hupostasis" is literally an object that has been placed under another as a basis or foundation. Thus the "hupostasis" is the bases or foundation of belief. "Elegchos" is used only twice in the New Testament... In 2 Timothy, the word is translated as "reproof", indicating its base meaning of "conviction" in the sense of being convicted of a crime or accusation. Thus, for the modern reader, perhaps a better rendering of this verse would be: "Now faith is the basis for hoping and the conviction in things that we do not see"... The purpose of the forgoing analysis is to make clear the view of faith set forth in Hebrews, that "faith" is hope for things of which one cannot be certain.

Mormons usually interpret this passage in a way in which faith becomes something tangible and real, instead of it being seen as a mere hope for something uncertain. As Joseph Smiths tanslation puts it, faith is the "evidence" of an unseen, but true objective reality.

Another book which I recently read, which has influenced my thinking on this subject is "The Variations of Religious Experience" by William James. In a series of lectures, James chronicles the many types of religious experiences found in a variety of settings. As I read this book, I was forced to ask myself why my religious experiences are more profound than those of a Hindu or some other religious persuasion, and upon what basis my religious experiences can be seen as imparting objective truth.

I really have no good answer for this question, but it forces me to wonder what basis a person could have for claiming to not be an agnostic Mormon. If faith truly is "the basis for hoping and the conviction in things that we do not see", and not an objective possession, then aren't we all just "wait and see" Mormons when it gets right down to it?

9 Comments:

  • Your post reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a less-active member of the church. Our conversation was directed more toward the ideas behind quantum physics than religion, but naturally landed on the crossroads of the two. We simplistically discussed the implications of quantum physics, and its suggestion that individuals create their own environment, including their own experiences. If I believe these theories to be true, which I do, I must also concede that my religious experiences are also products of myself. I told the man with whom I spoke, that my belief in Christ, my belief in the validity of Joseph Smith, even my experiences with the Holy Ghost could indeed be creations of myself. I would be a hypocrite if I were to deny this reasoning.
    Which leads me to the topic of faith: If these questions were clearly answered, would there be any need for faith? Perhaps the only answer is to hope that my convictions are as real as they need to be. However, I cannot deny anyone else the same right over believing his or her experiences are just as real.
    I suppose I am an agnostic Mormon, for the sole reason that I believe faith is requisite in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is only when we reach the ultimate goal of having a perfect knowledge of things that faith loses its significance. Until we attain the goal, we are all agnostic Mormons.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Monday, June 05, 2006 10:20:00 PM  

  • I suppose agnosticism is perhaps only a steppingstone in the search for concrete knowledge and this is why its found in all religions of the world. I think the majority of Mormons have used sheer knowledge in the place of hope so much over the years that the real meaning and concept of faith has been buried. My question is whether faith is an accidental concept that a person merely stumbles upon. If what a person hopes for just so happens to be an eternal truth, does he/she suddenly have faith even though their knowledge has not changed in the slightest?
    I think the reality is that most everyone is an agnostic regardless of what they believe. As far as a spiritual experience brought on by the Holy Ghost, that can happen in any religion and to anyone as the Holy Ghost sees fit. If you ask me, the interpretation is the important part.

    Developing…

    By Blogger Jay, at Tuesday, June 06, 2006 12:42:00 PM  

  • If what a person hopes for just so happens to be an eternal truth, does he/she suddenly have faith even though their knowledge has not changed in the slightest?

    I guess this all depends upon how we define the word 'faith'. Can you have faith in something that isn't true? Sure you can. But can this false faith produce good fruit, well not according to the scriptures, but I haven't any personal experience to base this on.

    Jay, did you have any experiences on you mission that are faith related?

    By Blogger Jared E., at Tuesday, June 06, 2006 2:41:00 PM  

  • I think it also depends on how "good fruit" is defined. I don't mean to go in circles here, but I have met a number of people who belong to a number of religions who believe that because they are faithful in their beliefs they are blessed. I remember speaking with a person of Hinduism who stated that because he reads his Gita (religious book of the religion) and implements its teachings he is blessed with happiness, joy, and the like. Are these just manefestations of his state of mind based upon his view/perception of his environment mingled with his beliefs? I don't know. Perhaps he is just feeling the benefits of staying out of trouble. It would certainly contradict the sciptures if he was truely being blessed by God for reading "false" teachings.

    By Blogger Jay, at Tuesday, June 06, 2006 3:48:00 PM  

  • 'Good Fruit'

    In the gospel essentials class I teach, inevitably the 'blessing' of paying tithing come up every few weeks. I've always paid my tithing, but have yet to receive a magic check in the mail. I wish a study could be done, to investigate the finances of poor full tithe paying members, and poor non-tithe paying members. But since such a study is not do-able, I'll have to go on accepting the 'magic check' stories.

    By Blogger Jared E., at Wednesday, June 07, 2006 9:25:00 AM  

  • "Magic Check"


    My wife and I have endured extremely difficult financial cicumstances thus far this entire year. To give an idea, we are full-tithe payers and have reported less than $200.00. THAT IS LESS THAN $1200.00 INCOME OVER 6 MONTHS! We have literally only have enough to eat and go to school in the hopes of a better financial future.

    Magic check? I have received no such thing or do I anticipate it.

    By Blogger Jay, at Tuesday, June 13, 2006 8:50:00 PM  

  • Hummmm....such interesting and deep thoughts.
    Can I add just a couple of my own?
    First off...I am in no way an intellectual. Most of my knowledge is from life experience. So if my thoughts seem simple and my spelling bad please forgive me:
    Who cares who’s religion is right or wrong?
    If your life is good, if it is full of love and laughter, and faith in good things when life gets tough who needs more?(That sounds selfish doesn’t it!)
    I know that as members of the LDS faith we are to be missionaries, but I have always felt that if people ask me what I believe I will tell them, but I don't feel that I have any special duty to ram my religion down anybody's throat (I'm not including ones own children...I think you have to ram as much truth down them as you can get in until they reach the age that they won't let you...than hopefully they will have enough correct information that they will be able to choose for themselves...but THAT is a whole different topic)
    I'm going to say something really shocking here now....I know an awful lot of really happy non mormons..gasp! And quite a few unhappy Mormons...gasp!
    Does that mean that just being a Mormon does not automatically ensure that we will have a great life?
    I get pretty sick of the very narrow view that many LDS have that by just being a member of "the church" we will automatically live full, rich, lives that will be trouble free. Does the word “agency” mean anything to anybody out there???? Or how ‘bout “attitude?”
    I have actually had someone say to me that because they "prayed over their children everyday that they didn't have to worry about anything bad happening to them..."
    I find this so narrow that it is scary.
    Just because we pay tithing it doesn’t mean that life won’t be hard for us. If you are paying tithing so you will have a “free-ride” through life stop paying right now!
    Pay tithing because you love the Lord, and you love his work.
    I really understand that when life sucks the most: that is when we learn the most. Sorry but it is true.
    Life has to be sucky, really, really, really, sucky sometimes so we can learn something really, really, really fine and good and true.
    I feel truly sorry for people who have never had to struggle through hard times
    If your never poor how do you know when you are rich? If it is never sucky, how do you know when it is un-sucky?
    It doesn’t matter what or why something happens to you. What matters is what you do about it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Monday, June 19, 2006 3:27:00 PM  

  • Anonymous,

    I couldn't have said it better myself. Sometimes life is 'sucky', regardless of who you are. I think that is the point of being here, right?

    By Blogger Jared E., at Tuesday, June 20, 2006 3:57:00 PM  

  • Cheesy story time…

    Whenever times like these arise, I always remember a lesson I learned from my missionary trainer.

    I was brand new and we were assigned to possibly the crappiest area on this rock called Earth. It was hot, sweaty, and we rarely had something to do. We didn’t speak French so we couldn’t just “open our mouths.” On this particular occasion the sun beat down on us so hard. The one appointment for the week had fallen through and we had absolutely nothing to do (not that I was in the mood to do missionary work at that point). I remember walking through a meadow on our way to who knows where and I said something to the effect of, “I really don’t feel like being a missionary right now, and if I did, I can’t because there’s jack to do.” I will always remember his response and it is probably the single most important lesson I learned those two years. He said, “You know, when you don’t feel like getting out of bed and trying to do what has been asked of you, those are the times you show the Savior what you really want. I never really liked the guy, but I have to admit he was right.

    I think this story applies to any crappy scenario that might arise as it pertains to spirituality.

    By Blogger Jay, at Thursday, June 29, 2006 11:07:00 PM  

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