Still feeling like he’s on solid ground.

I recently had lunch with a friend who navigated a faith crisis a few years ago, but has come out on the believing end, yet realizing that there are many aspects of the church culture that she doesn’t like and assumptions of her church friends she disagrees with.  This was after 20 years as an adult feeling more or less like everyone else, not questioning those same assumptions.  How can someone change their views?  And once they do, why is it so hard for people to get along?

First of all, we often hold religious beliefs apart as if they are a special case, not subject to opinion or argument or logic or different views.  We may do this diplomatically, like not discussing politics at the dinner table, or we may do this because we consider spiritual matters to be a separate class of beliefs, not subject to logical scrutiny and not man-made and prone to error.  Rest assured that beliefs, whether religious or cultural or political, include the same sorts of things:  values, biases, assumptions, and opinions.

In 2010, I read a book by Kathryn Schulz called Adventured in the Margin of Error.  I blogged about her tips to avoid error here.  You can watch her TED Talk here.  You can also read her series of case studies on The Slate.  One of her points is that we never experience BEING wrong.  Being wrong feels exactly like being right.  We never know we ARE wrong; we may realize later that we WERE wrong, but in doing so, we are RIGHT again.  She said being wrong is like when Wile E. Coyote has followed the Roadrunner off the cliff and hasn’t yet looked down and realized that he has no solid ground beneath him.  Until we look down, we still feel confident that we are on solid ground.

These 3 assumptions come out no matter the topic or age of the opponents.

People who believe they are right usually go through Three Assumptions about the opposing argument (rather than listening to it):

  1. Ignorance.  The assumption is that the other person doesn’t have all the information.
  2. Idiocy.  If they have all the information, they are not smart enough to interpret that information correctly.
  3. Evil.  If they have the information and understand what it implies, they must be evil liars, not acting in good faith.

Thanks to the internet, people are even more transparent and less diplomatic in using language that points out the assumptions; when someone is making one of the three assumptions, they may bluntly say things like:  you obviously don’t have all the facts, you don’t know what you are talking about, your comments are too stupid to address, you are a troll, you can’t really believe that hogwash, you are brainwashed, etc.  What’s interesting is that both TBMs and their disbelieving counterparts use these exact same assumptions.  Here’s how it may sound coming from a disbelieving Mormon:

  1. People who still believe don’t have all the facts I have.  They don’t know about [insert thorny issue].  If they had all the facts, they would also stop believing, just like I have.  Some of them bury their heads in the sand and refuse to look at the evidence which is staring them in the face.  
    • The interwebz.  Sites like MormonThink are created with the desire to provide contrary facts to those who haven’t done their own research.  Lots of sites will discuss these facts and evidence from a non-believing perspective.
  2. People who still believe yet have all the facts are illogical.  They lack the education or intelligence to understand the facts and evidence or they would conclude what I have concluded.  They aren’t as smart as I am.
    • Are believers dumb?  A recent study (contested by believers for obvious reasons) states that atheists are more intelligent than Christians.  Read it here.  To read a rebuttal, go here or read below.  Studies like this are just another rehash of the 2nd assumption:  that the opposing argument isn’t as smart as my argument. They have the same facts but are too dumb to come to the same conclusions I have.

      Let’s say that the bottom half of the IQ distribution never questions the religion of their upbringing, while the top half is skeptical. Now, just among that skeptical top half, let’s say that 80 percent end up affirming their faith and remain religious, while the rest reject faith and become atheists.

      Religion would seem to be the clear choice of smart people in this hypothetical example, but there would still be a positive correlation between IQ and atheism. The correlation exists not because smart people have necessarily rejected religion, but because religion is the default position for most of our society.

      This same principle works in places where the default and iconoclastic beliefs are reversed. Japan, for example, has no tradition of monotheistic religion, but the few Japanese Christians tend to be much more educated than non-Christians in Japan.

  3. Church leaders must know all these facts and understand what they mean; they are conspiring for their own gain.  They deliberately keep followers in the dark so they can get tithing dollars.  They misuse the widow’s mite, knowing all the while they are preaching a false religion.  Maybe not all of them are evil, but some of them are.
    • Conspiracy Theory.  Many of you may have read the recent Grant Palmer claim the he met with a mission president and a seventy who “discovered” the church isn’t true and who claimed that none of the apostles believe it either.  From that write up, when Bro. Palmer asked why he was disciplined for writing An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins:  “The GA stated that my disciplinary action (which would have occurred on the final Sunday of October 2010 had I not resigned), was mandated/ordered/approved by the First Presidency of the Church. I said that if the apostles know the church is not true and yet order a disciplinary hearing for my writing a book that is almost certainly true regarding the foundational claims of the church, then they are corrupt even evil. He replied, “That’s right!””
When we believe we are right, we feel compelled to fight against others’ wrongness rather than listen to them.

What does it sound like when the roles are reversed, and it’s a TBM talking?

  1. People who don’t believe haven’t attained the spiritual knowledge that I have.  They lack the experiences (evidence) that I have achieved or been given.  Maybe they haven’t really prayed about it, or maybe they have ignored the spirit when they felt it.
    • Nephi, Laman & Lemuel.  Nephi’s exchange with Laman & Lemuel is a classic example of this (1 Nephi 15: 8-9):  

      8 And I said unto them: Have ye ainquired of the Lord?

      9 And they said unto me: aWe have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.

  2. People who don’t believe yet have had spiritual experiences don’t understand what those experiences mean.  They are too weak to take action based on the evidence in front of them.  They don’t understand how to interpret the spirit.  Maybe they lack emotional intelligence or resilience.  Maybe they are disloyal.
    • Jacob & Sherem.  When Jacob confronts Sherem, this is the defense he uses (Jacob 7: 10-11):  10 And I said unto him: Believest thou the scriptures? And he said, Yea.  11 And I said unto him: Then ye do not understand them; for they truly testify of Christ.
  3. If they have had spiritual experiences yet don’t conclude the same things I have, they are evil.  They leave due to a desire to sin.  They love evil more than good.  They deny the holy ghost by denying the gifts they have been given.  Embracing doubt is rejecting faith.  They are following Satan because it’s the easy way out, and they aren’t valiant or good people.  They embrace works of darkness.  Examples:
    • Jacob & Sherem.  Going back to the smackdown between Jacob & Sherem (Jacob 7: 18-19), Sherem is purported to have admitted openly that he “lied” about not believing in Christ.  This is an area of scripture where I have always had suspicions of an unreliable narrator.  The story wraps up just a little too neatly:  18 And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been adeceived by the power of the bdevil. And he spake of hell, and of ceternity, and of eternal dpunishment.  19 And he said: I afear lest I have committed the bunpardonable sin, for I have lied unto God; for I denied the Christ, and said that I believed the scriptures; and they truly testify of him. And because I have thus lied unto God I greatly fear lest my case shall becawful; but I confess unto God.
    • Korihor.  Korihor’s story ends in a neat little package likewise (Alma 30: 58):  I know that nothing save it were the apower of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always bknew that there was a God.
    • Moroni & Ammoron.  We also see this line of thinking in Moroni’s “skillful diplomacy” toward Ammoron in negotiating an exchange of prisoners (Alma 54: 11):  it supposeth me that I talk to you concerning these things in vain; or it supposeth me that thou art a achild of hell
Way to spin our wrongness into being right again!

Often we cite scriptures as a way to “prove” a point of view.  Of course, scriptures were written by people who believed they were right, justifying why they did what they did.  In other words, human beings consistently use these three assumptions to avoid looking down to see whether they are on solid ground or about to fall.

  • Have you seen these three assumptions at play in the internet discussions you’ve read?
  • Have you used these three assumptions?
  • How do you avoid using these assumptions?
  • Are we becoming less civil due to the anonymity of the internet, or is the internet just revealing the attitudes people were diplomatically hiding?