Wheat & Tares

The philosophies of men mingled with the philosophies of women.

37 thoughts on “Divine Absurdity

  1. I sometimes find the Book of Mormon to be…absurd. Even though I have felt the Holy Ghost confirm its divinity… Yes! Minor quibbles aside I think this is an excellent post!

    Stop attempting to defend Mormonism with B.S. arguments and B.S. apologetics that amount to little more than lying the Lord! The Lord and Mormonism are fully capable of standing on their own! When you lie you hurt Mormonism and yourself in the long run. A faith/belief based argument will never prevail in a logic based forum. A testimony (and teaching how to obtain one) and gnosis (if you have it) is the honest method of presenting faith/belief based position. You cannot successfully argue faith/belief based position precisely because it ISN’T logical! The reason you want to make it logical is childish ego defense, you don’t want your belief to appear to be crazy to others. Instead gain self confidence in your belief so that you can share you testimony informally as conversation apologetically.

    Does this mean logic has NO place in Mormonism. Of course not. Blacks can. Blacks can’t. Blacks can. The prophet will never lead you astray. Forget what you heard prophets say. This is dependable evidence that something went seriously wrong not some supernatural enigma.

  2. Yes, this is a great post. And it explains something that many Mormons are afraid to admit, or other religions or even scientists for that matter. That things are proved, unproven and misproven every day of the week. Why do we stay loyal to a group or an idea?

    It all starts with a premise that we have that is accepted by faith alone. And then the extrapolation starts from there. If you accept a belief in God, then the next logical question is Who is God, What is he/she like? etc. In some cases, the tenets of Mormonism have addressed that better than others, in some cases, not.

    But you deal with the absurdities based on the fundamental faith-based beliefs you have, the historical context of the information and the experiences/knowledge of the ones communicating.

    The biggest mistake I see being made all the time is not evaluating the information based on the proper context how, when, where and who provided it.

  3. So here’s one of the quibbles. I think it’s a mistake to broad brush science as absurdity, certainly it isn’t close to the absurdity of religion. But as we (non-scientists) attempt to understand quantum physics and string theory it begins to get pretty weird in that what is predicted isn’t easily intuitively understood or accepted by common people.

    Using science as a metaphor, religion is similar to a non-scientist attempting to explain quantum physics to a lay audience. Obvious the explanation will lack much and loose much in the dumbed down telling, this is the correlated sausage we’re asked to digest at church! So religion without question is absurd and spirituality is the supernatural equivalent of quantum physics or beyond.

  4. I think my critique of this post would be very opposite my critique of Hawkgrrrl’s from yesterday (meaning, in a way, that I think Hawk’s post can apply to this one).

    With HG’s post, I could see how it applies to lived experiences, but not to lofty ideas/intellectual matters. But here, I can totally see how absurdity can apply to lofty ideas/intellectual matters, but I don’t see how it is something people can live with on a day to day basis.

    For example, whether it is the many worlds theory OR young earth creationism, I think people are able to hold whichever view they do without much anxiety because on a day to day basis, either of these views won’t impact your day. However, for something more recent, like [the allegation of] God denying blacks the priesthood, or something current, like [the allegation of] God denying women the priesthood, these definitely seem more likely to be in Hawkgrrrl’s “near miss” category.

    These near misses will certainly awaken us to the absurdities of our belief system, if we were blind to them before…whereas the remote misses won’t necessarily. And when we awake, as you say, “we have no choice but to apostatize and find something more palatable to our rational mind”

    You later say:

    But there is no place to hide from absurdity. Every philosophy and system of belief is beset with paradoxes. Ultimately, one will realize that the LDS church is just as reasonable, and just as absurd as any other belief system.

    But to the contrary, I think we can gain insight be recasting this into a more subjective light. I think there will be many who will push back on the idea that the LDS church is just as reasonable and just as absurd as any other belief system, but for now, I’ll concede this just to say that *even if that is true*, it is not necessarily the case that it is just as reasonable and just as absurd *for everyone*.

    I think people find other belief systems more palatable because whatever absurdities there are are not everyday *lived* absurdities.

  5. I have a couple of “quibbles” with the post, to steal Howard’s term. First of all, I don’t understand (nor have I ever understood) why it’s such a virtue that god plays hide the ball with his children. Believers routinely tout the unbelievability of the scriptures as evidence of their truthfulness. Not only does this make no sense logically, I have yet to hear a convincing argument of any kind as to why this is such a good thing, besides the very convenient argument that the scriptures themselves say that they’ll be a stumbling block to the learned. Why is deceiving and obfuscating better than simply presenting the evidence in a clear and straightforward manner, and allowing people to choose? The OP makes the rather broad assumption that the absurdity of the scriptures is a mark in their favor, but doesn’t really explain why, other than to say it’s equally as absurd as the bible so it must be as true as the bible, which just assumes that the bible is true. Why does absurdity evidence the truthfulness of either book?

    Secondly, I think you have to be a little more clear in how you define absurdity. The many worlds theory is absurd in the sense that it seems far-fetched and a little sci-fi-ish. Similarly, the Adam and Eve story, or many other scriptural anecdotes, are far-fetched, although not impossible or disproven. That’s a comparison I’m comfortable with. There are many other aspects of the book of mormon, though, that go far beyond that type of absurdity. The presence of horses or the misrepresented (if not wholly false) geographical claims, for example. In that sense, I think it’s a bit disingenuous to say “science is really just as absurd as the bible or the book of mormon.” (I realize you didn’t use those words, but I think that’s one of the implications of the post) In fact there are aspects of both books that are conclusively unsupported by any objective evidence (to be kind). I don’t think cynics primarily rely on the absurdity of the scriptures in coming to the conclusion that they’re not true. Ultimately I think that decision rests on the empirical evidence, or lack thereof, underlying any given proposition.

    I guess ultimately I’m not really sure what the absurdity of the book of mormon has to do with whether it’s true, or even valuable. What am I missing?

  6. “I think the absurdity in the Book of Mormon is actually one of its greatest evidences. It almost approaches the absurdity of the Bible. Nothing could be more preposterous than the stories of Adam and Eve, the crossing of the Red Sea, the resurrection, the immaculate conception, the loaves and fishes, etc.”
    EXACTLY. And this is also exactly why most don’t literally believe those absurd stories from the Bible to be true history. Apply this same reasoning to the Book of Mormon, and you’ll see their stories are not historically factual either.

  7. Believers routinely tout the unbelievability of the scriptures as evidence of their truthfulness. The best explanation for this oxymoron that I have heard is to preserve agency.

    Belief hurtles require one to go beyond the simple story, they must be buoyed by faith or belief which is probably some form of inspiration or by spiritual conformation. So if you do Moroni’s challenge in earnest and receive conformation you become hooked but you’re hooked along with a considerable amount of dissonance because your new belief is illogical. Presumably you will work to ease this dissonance, ideally by continuing to engage the spirit and learn from him. But in practice what really happens is you sit through the 3 hour block and temple sessions with other members who appear to believe as well and give testimony to their belief so you ease you quest and relax within the LDS community. All is well until you discover the bloggernacle or some of the church’s betrayal land mines and your unresolved dissonance makes itself known more powerfully than ever. This is one reason the “faithful” want the progressives to shut up. Progressive probing stirs their internal dissonance and makes them very uncomfortable.

  8. Howard, extremely well stated!!

    Let’s see a faithful Mormon do a google search for “Joseph Smith’s polyandry” and make sense out of that absurdity (marrying other faithful Mormon men’s wives after he sent them on missions for the church).

    Or…try a google search for “Fanny Alger” (Joseph’s first plural wife years before he received the sealing keys).

    It all quickly unravels and this is only the beginning. Absurdities? Faith promoting? Seriously????

  9. Julie M., I think reasonable people can respond to that information in different ways. While many people find those revelations to be fatal to their faith, I know many others who have worked through troubling facts and events and have retained strong belief in the church. In fact many believers do find the flaws and frailties in church leaders and in the church itself to absolutely be faith building.

  10. If the author possesses knowledge that Stephen Hawking does not have, then the author should make it known so all the world could benefit.

  11. Context is everything. If you told people 200 years ago that in 1969 a man would land on the moon and walk around and it would be broadcast to the world, they would have thought you mad or absurd at the least. But it precisely happened and we can fully understand exactly what happened and how it happened because we have the context.

    Too many people cannot put those historical happenings and writings in the proper context to those times. Even if the story is untrue, there is a context as to why it is there.

    Sort of like the theory that Greek mythology is somehow based on some truth but rationalized in a very different way.

    Making a man out of the dust of the earth? Taking a rib and making a woman?

    Don’t be absurd…. We know exactly how babies are born

  12. By that logic, the absurdity of Scientology is one of its greatest evidences. After all, no rational modern mind could have come up with something like Xenu.

    There is a difference between thinking unconventionally and embracing the absurd. I think you’re trying to get at the former but conflating it with the latter.

  13. LDS people can smugly dismiss the blindness of Evangelicals because we have modern revelation that says that the earth was created in 6 periods of time, rather than 6 days.

    I think a frightening number of LDS probably believe in a six-literal-day creation, at least in some places. This always surprises me. . .

    Anyway, I think a number of you are ignoring Nate’s definition of “absurd” and using the more common definition of “absurd” to create a straw man with which to criticize his argument. I don’t think the argument is perfect, but if you read again what he means by “absurd,” I think you might find you’ve missed the mark.

  14. “But for me, absurd is the only word that captures the bewilderment that my rational mind sometimes faces when confronted with the paradox of the Book of Mormon’s spiritual light on the one hand, and its strangeness on the other.”

    As I read this I pictured the Book of Mormon as an inkblot test. While one may see absurdity, another may see something more meaningful. It’s all in the interpretation. The concrete truth is that the Book of Mormon is a book, plain and simple. It could be divinely inspired, it could be simply inspiring, or it could be a complete hoax. These are all possibilities, but most people aren’t content living in that realm of the unknown. They have to weigh the evidence (or pray) and make a conclusion. Well, not me. I’m fine living in the unknown. I can still benefit from the book, but I’m not floored when something seems fishy.

  15. Nate, the religion you describe seems so foreign to me, and we grew up in the same house! I believed in a Mormonism that had logic and reason on its side, whose God was a God of order, that didn’t have any of the lossey-goosey Trinitarian-style mental contortions of apostate Christianity. Maybe I was naive, but I had correlation on my side.

    I guess it’s possible that you’re right, that the gospel is intentionally absurd so we have to exercise faith. But I think the majority of people are uncomfortable believing absurd things, and when they conclude that their beliefs are absurd, they change them. That’s why the church, in its public discourse, continues to preach a simple non-nuanced gospel, where everything fits nicely together (think Elder Holland’s recent talk about how ludicrous and pathetic Book of Mormon critics are given how self-evidently authentic and historical the book is, or Elder Nelson’s condescending dismissal of the big bang). If they were to lead with the absurd and the paradoxical, they’d drive away the majority of people who want to think that their beliefs are reasoned and justified. Better to use it as a stop-gap measure when the absurdity bubbles to the surface, and stop some of the bleeding.

    I’m not saying your approach to Mormonism is wrong, as I think there are a wide range of ways to experience and practice Mormonism. I just hope you can respect my choice to not to suspend my disbelief and embrace the absurdity.

  16. Maybe I was naive, but I had correlation on my side. Humm, doesn’t having correlation on one’s side require naivete?

  17. Do you honestly believe that God would speak to his children using absurdities? If God wants all people to join his true church, we are to believe that he’d use absurd stories to convert them? That’s…..what’s the word? Oh yeah…..ABSURD !!!

  18. Gwen, I think your comment brings out an important point. I DON’T believe God wants all people to join the church. There is a lot of scriptural evidence where you can see God actively engaging in deception in order to keep people away from the gospel.

    God says several times in the Bible, “I will blind their eyes and stop their ears that they see not, that they hear not, that they be not converted, and I heal them.” Jesus is ultimately crucified because He said, “I will tear down the temple and build it up in three days.” When given abundant opportunity to clarify His absurd claim, Jesus refuses to clarify, deliberately misleading the people into thinking He is crazy, and setting up His own death. Jesus is to blame for His crucifixion. That is why He said, “They know not what they do.” The same thing happens with the bread of life sermon, when most of his disciples left him, because he said “you have to eat my flesh and drink my blood” without ever clarifying the statement. He speaks in parables, so he explains, that the truths will be hidden from those who don’t have “ears to hear.” He calls gentiles dogs who are unworthy to eat of the food of the children. He is deliberately a “stumbling block, a rock of offense,” the “stone the builders reject to become the cornerstone,” with “no beauty that he should be desired by man.” It seems to me that God spends at least as much time trying to keep people out of the church as he does trying to keep them in.

  19. Thanks for joining the conversation brother Joel. You say, “Maybe I was naive, but I had correlation on my side….I guess it’s possible that you’re right, that the gospel is intentionally absurd so we have to exercise faith. But I think the majority of people are uncomfortable believing absurd things, and when they conclude that their beliefs are absurd, they change them.”

    This is a great point, and I should clarify that my perspective on absurdity is only my perspective, one that keeps me personally in the church. It may or may not help or hurt others. God endowed me personally with a love for paradox and shades of grey. I see these paradoxes everywhere, and the fact that the church contains them as well is a mark in it’s favor, at least in my mind.

    But certainly that is NOT the way many or most other people see life, or the gospel, including probably many of the prophets. Joseph Smith did say, “I don’t blame any man for not believing my history, I myself would not have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it.” So I think Joseph recognized the absurdity of his story. But other prophets, like those you mention, Elder Holland or Elder Nelson perhaps, who are more dismissive of doubts and paradoxes, might not see any absurdity at all in the church.

    So I think the fact that you left the church is perfectly reasonable, and I don’t blame you for it. I think it is all part of God’s plan. I don’t think you are any less fortunate than others who stay in the church, either because they are ignorant of the absurdities, or appreciate the paradoxes. God gave us minds, he gave us reason, he gave us the scientific revolution, and I think He expects us to respond intelligently to these gifts. So it is obvious that people will reject His absurd church.

    The only thing keeping me in the church, is my own personal revelation, which I take no credit for. For some strage reason, God blessed me or cursed me with the call “come follow me” which I feel within me, in a completely rational and confident way, was real. This call contradicts with the absurdity of the path. Why follow an absurd God? But God warned me in the scripture that His way would be “strait and narrow,” and that it would seem like “foolishness” to the wisdom of men. So I’m drinking the coolaid. Not because I’m stupid or hoodwinked, but because I was given supernatural, empiricle evidence that God, or some wonderful spiritual being outside of myself, wants me to. But in the absence of that divine evidence, I don’t blame anyone for rejecting this obviously absurd path.

  20. Just wanted to say I really liked brojones questions and Andrew S in 5 and 6. Good point that absurdity in the abstract, like truth claims, is different than the absurdity of blacks and the priesthood for those directly effected negatively. My perspective is maybe not very helpful for those afflicted by the latter.

    brjones, that was interesting to distinguish between things that are not falsifiable, like Adam and Eve, and then falsifiable, like horses. I guess I lump those things all together, and ultimately, I don’t really need to take the horses or Adam and Eve completely literally. I think they could have had some kind of historical basis, or not, like precariousironrod says, “I can still benefit from the book, but I’m not floored when something seems fishy.” God could be the author of “historical fiction” in my mind. The only thing that matters to me is the empiricle experience of God personally in my own life. The rest is just trying to make sense of this strange path He gave me. How I explain it, or how others explain it is not that important.

  21. God blessed me or cursed me with the call “come follow me” which I feel within me, in a completely rational and confident way, was real. This call contradicts with the absurdity of the path. Well said, I value your love of paradox and neauance. I have a similar calling of discipleship. Where we differ is that I have been asked to help make the path less absurd and more spiritual.

  22. The stories and narratives are there for a purpose and to teach us something, . even if the story is true, untrue or absurd sounding by today;standards. The lesson should be straight forward.and easy to understand. Generally, they are, but multiple interpretations would tell you not always.

  23. given how many people interpret the purpose of the stories is, “This is literal history and science and we should read this book as a literal history and science textbook,” it certainly seems that the lessons are not always straightforward.

  24. Nate, while I understand what you’re saying it seems that for the sake of argument you are going to an extreme with the idea that God expects us to believe the absurd. You are purposely not mentioning all the many reasons TO believe which are not absurd at all. What about all the the benefits and blessings? What about the fruit? What about the witness that comes after the trial of our faith? I think you’re being a little unfair.

  25. ““This is literal history and science and we should read this book as a literal history and science textbook,”

    I guess it depends on which era history and science textbooks you are looking at. What used to be true and literal is not always so now.

  26. I guess it depends on which era history and science textbooks you are looking at. What used to be true and literal is not always so now. That seems too broad brush to me. Yes we used to be taught that an atom was the smallest unit of matter but upon looking closer we found smaller still. But when was a talking snake science? It seems science has accelerated in truth far beyond religion.

  27. re 28,

    Jeff,

    And I’m saying that in every era (including the current one…including 2014), you’ll have people saying that the Bible, Book of Mormon, etc., should be taken as history and science textbooks. That the scriptures are meant to be true and literal, it was always so, and it always will be so.

    certainly, I know that interpretations go in and out of style with the time, but this just kinda shows that straightforward interpretations are not so straightforward.

  28. I prefer the wit and wisdom of “Agent K” (though Tommy Lee Jones is always great in the films, I actually prefer the cartoon version…)

    “1,500 years ago, everybody KNEW that the Earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago, everybody KNEW that the Earth was flat. And 15 minutes ago, you KNEW that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll KNOW tomorrow.”

    At the time the BoM was published, his contemporaries saw the Native Americans as uncivilised “savages” (I guess the cultural genocide against the Aztecs and Incas was too effective, and never mind Sequoyah and Tecumseh to disabuse said stereotype…). The civilization depicted therein was thus considered an absurdity as everyone then KNEW that the “Red Man” would never have existed under those conditions. Much more has since been learned that at least a BoM civilization, on the cultural and technical levels depicted, is quite possible, though there’s so much that we still don’t know (some trifling details like location, extent, relationships to neighboring peoples, etc. were left out).

    For myself, knowing that regardless of what truths about the BoM peoples may be discovered and come to acceptance in secular academia, at least my eyes were opened to not conform to generally-accepted notions that the ancestors of ALL Native Americans travelled across the Siberia-Alaska “land bridge” in prehistory. And what prepetuated this? It was somehow believed that until 1492, when Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” (or at least Lief Ericson and the Vikings about 1000) that man lacked the ability to sail between Eastern and Western hemispheres. Even after Thor Heyerdahl’s “Kon Tiki” expedition of 1947 demonstrated the feasibility of ocean travel, the “land bridge” model was still deemed historically orthodox.

    Of course, all these nice tidbits of info aren’t what a testimony of the BoM are built upon. They simply provide evidence that shows that its plausibility doesn’t utterly trump logic. As for its spritual authenticity, that’s something that I can testify all the livelong day to but can’t just give out like candy. Anyone’s personal testimony has to be gained by personal effort and interest as Moroni 10:3-5 describes.

  29. At first I had to double check the author because a lot of this is what Bro. Jake has been saying, but he’s come out on the other side.

    I do agree that those who take these stories literally or who don’t see paradox and nuance in religious teachings utterly miss the point of it. But there seem to be a few of those folks even at the Q12 level, to say nothing of the general membership.

  30. For that matter, I find the idea that all human beings are descended through one married couple, their three sons, and the wives of said sons, and THAT diverged into the current great racial divides to be a bit much to swallow. It’s not that I reject the Bible, it’s just that there’s little info on how the diversity of humankind could result from simple intermarriage. But that’s where humility comes in. Perhaps the Bible was never intended as a historical/anthropological treatise; and certainly I don’t know what was the DNA make of Noah, his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law. So my dissatisfaction as to resolution of this question shouldn’t cause me to reject my faith in Christ or His revealed word. That’s where I’ll just have to trust that in time it’ll all be explained. Or as Master Yoda woulld say: “Patience! Even for the Jedi time it is to ponder and pray, hmmmm???”

  31. Good points Douglas. We can be patient, or we can suscribe to theories, but obvious assumptions don’t work.

  32. Ancient as well as modern records are written from the perspective of the writers, too. I often wonder, given the paucity of evidence for the very existence, much less the magnificence, of the Biblical Israelite kingdoms, whether “Solomon in all his glory” was seen by his neighbors as “that annoying little band of barbarian herdsmen in their mud huts on that hill.”

  33. Nate:

    No scientific theory could be more absurd than the “many worlds theory,” yet 58% of leading quantum physicists believe it to be true, including Steven Hawking.

    What makes the Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum decoherence “more absurd” than Copenhagen? If you would have asked me to pick the most “absurd” interpretation, Many-Worlds wouldn’t have been my guess.

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