Sunday, November 16, 2008

Relative Truth

"As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. … I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.”

- Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Dating Versus Hanging Out 2006

I have to take a moment to say I might offend a few people with this one, but it's something I've thought of for a while and I think merits some discussion.

We like to talk about how our church is perfect. I don't consider the Church perfect. I don't think it's right for everyone. Does that make it less true? No, but for them it's not right, it's not true, and their truth is elsewhere. The truth of our gospel does not negate the truth of other gospels, nor theirs ours.

It does bother me when we so graciously allow other churches/faiths to have a "bit" of the truth within them. That sounds rather prideful to me, and there seem to be much pride in the way we speak about ourselves and our beliefs - especially regarding to the outside world.

I do think that God allows for more wiggle room than most of us are willing to admit. And even if this is not true, you will not see me telling a sincere member of either our church or another that they are wrong when they tell me they've prayed and anguished and have come to a decision that does not fall within certain accepted criteria.

God allows for exceptions.

I understand that truth is truth is truth. You can't change ultimate truth. You can't change the fact that I exist (or, if I died, existed), that we'll all die, that there is a God, a moon, etc.

But is truth sometimes, even most times, relative? Yeah.

I believe the Spirit can reside with everyone. We like to talk about it as a touch and go deal, but I don't think that's it at all. We've plenty of wonderful, amazing people who haven't been baptized into our Church who absolutely have consistent interaction with the Spirit of God. God will not ignore them or allow bad things to happen to them because they haven't had the Spirit conferred upon them by Priesthood authority. We like to say we were spared because of the Spirit, and yet when we are not spared we say it was the will of God. Well, I happen to believe that everything is the will of God, and he has his reasons. Sometimes we are given the ability to discern (some have more ability than others), but sometimes we are not. We listen or don't listen. God is no respecter of persons. He loves all of us equally.

I've heard too many faith promoting stories from those of other faiths to think we've got some monopoly over the Spirit - and yes, I do mean something different from the Light of Christ.

I'll never forget - for some reason - a story my stepmom told me. She said she and my dad were struggling financially at some point in their lives, and out of nowhere after Church (they attend the Assemblies of God), a woman comes up and says "I just felt impressed to give this to you." It was money.

IMPRESSED, people.

Or the conversion story I read the other day of a newbie Catholic. Just replace "Catholic" and its like words with "Mormon" or "LDS" and you've got a pretty standard LDS conversion story. I should know. It mirrored mine almost exactly.

God leads people all the time to do things we wouldn't think were right.

We like to talk about mercy, but I don't see too often our acting on that. We like justice. We like to "teach" people. But mercy...especially when someone is doing we think we know is wrong, we don't have much room for mercy. We like to preach free agency and how, while we can choose what we want to do, we cannot choose our consequences. We like consequences. They bring us back to Christ, right?

We don't offer mercy too often - not as a general membership.

If someone is struggling with the gospel, how often do we decide to take the "tough love" route? While I understand the rationale behind "tough love," sometimes we are, in our righteous zeal, too tough. Why not be a friend and talk with them, understand that you don't know everything despite what you might feel, and support them. I'll tell you, doing this will only help. Not "can" only help. Will.

Seriously. We think we "know" everything.

We know nothing.

*Yes, I know I changed the title of the entry and some of the more bold statements within it. You can take that as you will. I'm still struggling with a few things - with what's appropriate and what's not. I have some views that would be considered rather radical concerning the Church and its culture/doctrine, and I'm not entirely certain I'm comfortable airing some of those out just yet... or ever. Maybe with time.


Amanda said...

This would be the other (of two) reasons why I became an inactive member of the church - I couldn't stand all the self-righteousness involved in the doctrine. I don't like people debating what is right and wrong with the answer, "Because it's true." To me, that's such a ridiculous argument. Well, it's NOT true to someone who doesn't believe it, so how can you convince anyone that way??

Then again, I've never really believed in universal truth. Even though I grew up Catholic, my mom sort of taught us that truth is individual, and when we find where truth lies for us, then we'll be in the right place. The LDS church is true for many people, but I don't believe it is for everyone. I know it's not for me, for example. Some people will tell me I'm wrong, but the spirit has told me I did not belong there. Not Satan. Back when I was first introduced to the church, when I was 14 or 15, I was told to pray and ask the spirit what was right. I did. I got back an answer that the LDS church was just the same as the Catholic church, with a different dogma. And I'd believed, prior to prayer, that I would receive a resounding YES. I didn't. I felt a complete hollowness when praying about the church. For me, it was wrong.

I do find it odd, though, that as a member, you hold the opinion that the church may not be true for everyone. It's a very rare position to take in the church, and other than myself, I don't know of anyone else to take it. I'm not saying that's a bad thing - frankly, I like that - but it IS intriguing.

Lisa said...

I'm sure I'll get harangued for it, Amanda, no worries ;)

But I really do think so. I have for a while. Up until now, only my husband knew I felt that way (and he agrees).

Amanda said...

Good for you for speaking out. You're a brave woman.

Laura said...

I agree with you that we as members can often appear arrogant and self-righteous when we assert that we belong to "the only true church." To be clear, I do believe that this is the most correct of all churches on the earth, however, that does not mean that we are necessarily any better than non-believers. In the BOM, the Lord gave many truths to the Nephites but warned them not to assume that they were better than the Lamanites. In many cases (see Jacob 3), the Lamanites were actually behaving better and the Lord told them that they would be saved. Thus, where much is given, much is required. The church is true, but since we are all human, we sometimes allow that truth to create pride.

However, I don't agree with you that truth is relative. Some truths are absolutes. It is only our understanding of those truths that is relative. The prophets have testified of these absolute truths (i.e. that God exists, that JS was a prophet, that the BOM and Bible are the word of God). These truths do not change simply because we may disagree or have different opinions. If I believe that God exists and someone else believes that he does not - we can't both be right. Perhaps that view makes the most sense to that person or it feels right to them - but it doesn't make it true.

Pres. Kimball gave a great talk on this subject. He said "This church of Jesus Christ is the “only true and living church” (D&C 1:30) that is fully recognized by God, the only one properly organized with the authority to perform for him, and the only one with a total and comprehensive and true program which will carry men to powers unbelievable and to realms incredible. This is an absolute truth. It cannot be disproved. It is as true as the near-spherical shape of the earth, and as gravity; as true as the shining of the sun—as positive as the truth that we live. Most of the world disbelieve it, ministers attempt to disprove it, intellectuals think to rationalize it out of existence; but when all the people of the world are dead, and the ministers and priests are ashes, and the highly trained are moldering in their graves, the truth will go forward—the Church will continue triumphant and the gospel will still be true. The Lord has defined truth as being a “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). God’s existence is a reality. Immortality is a reality. These realities will not go away simply because we have different opinions about them. These realities will not be dissolved just because some have doubts about them. Opinion? Of course, there is a difference of opinion; but again, opinion cannot change laws or absolute truths. Opinions will never make the earth to be flat, the sun to dim its light, God to die, or the Savior to cease being the Son of God."

Kind of a long quote, but worth mentioning.

Lisa said...

I didn't say all truth was relative, though, Laura. Just that a lot of truth is.

Of course some truth isn't relative. But I got into that - just not an all-inclusive list of absolutes.

I tend to try to steer clear of absolutes as a rule anyway. I get proven wrong far too often when I do that. :)

nyn said...

This was such an amazing post. I am with your thougt process so very much and I was glad to find you here in the blogging world. I know that most people who know me truly think I am the kookiest Mormon in their ward. But...I agree with you on the truth thing. I think that absolute truth is relative to each person. One person may believe with absolute certainty that God is real and exists and that is absolute for them, another may believe that he does not with the same asuredness. Who am I to say that their understanding is any worse than mine. It is their truth. Well, put here. I look forward to following more of your posts :)

Heather said...


I don't mean to be critical or argumentative but "that" truth (if God exists or not) is not relative. God is real. He and His Son Jesus Christ live and just because someone chooses not to believe it, does not change that fact. We do not belittle or demean those who don't believe that, or at least I would hope we don't. But sooner or later most will find that the Gospel truths we know to be true are true no matter who chooses to live them. The Gospel message is a message of truth not "here you might like this." It is difficult for me to understand this line of thinking because of that. The Gospel is true regardless of what man thinks. They choose to live it's teachings or not, but the principles taught are still true. To me relative truths are things like, my toothbrush is blue. It's true for me, not so much for others.

Anyway, I hope that was not disrepectful, I'm not known for eloquence of speech.

Steve M. said...

This is really a great post. Couldn't agree with you more.

As Joseph Smith said, "One of the grand fundamental principles of 'Mormonism' is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may."

Similarly, Brigham Young said, "'Mormonism,' so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to 'Mormonism.' The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this church. As for their morality many of them are morally just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this church and kingdom."

I think we've strayed from the idea that other religions actually have something to teach us. Today, it seems that although we recognize that other churches have some truth, we generally see whatever truth they possess as being a subset of our truth. Thus, while we think we have something to offer them, we assume that we already have whatever truth they presently possess. That strikes me as being at odds with what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught in the quotes above. It also strikes me as arrogant and condescending.

I think that we, as Mormons, have a lot to learn about our place in the world. If Mormonism were the be-all, end-all of religion, then it seems silly that God would make it available to so few of His children. There are hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people now living who will go their whole lives without hearing about it.

nyn said...

Exactly, well put. I don't know if that is the point I made in my last comment, but that is what I was trying to say. Thank you for putting it so much better.