I have been reading more in This Strange and Sacred Scripture by Matthew Schlimm. Ben Spackman recommended it and I’ve found it interesting—especially as I’ve borrowed it back from my daughter (she borrowed it and I borrowed it back).
Last week’s morning’s reading was on the dynamic nature of Law in the Old Testament. For example, consider the law of Tithing. It turns out that Tithing might go to God, to the Levites, or the Temple, or even to the person paying it. The application of the law was dynamic. For an example:
“23 And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always.”
(In that example, tithing is consumed by the giver in a feast like Thanksgiving is for us).
In looking at that example, and some others, it hit me that dynamic law (a law that changes in application depending on circumstances and did not have a fixed meaning) builds on the concept that there can be one truth that exists at an abstract level, but that might have very different applications and so looks different from the outside (e.g. tithing consumed in a Thanksgiving feast looks different to us than tithing paid to the Levites for their support or tithing that goes to furnish Temples).
Given that all truth, of course, takes meaning in application, it also leads to the surprising conclusion that perhaps an application doesn’t tell us as much as we might think about truth (or doctrine or policy or programs).
This does mean, of course, that it is very possibly correct: the idea that there can be one truth, at an abstract level, that has meaning in application, and that has many applications. Without application, “truth” just remains an abstract that doesn’t have import or purpose.
Of course I look at truth that way because my natural mode of thinking is very abstract, almost inchoate. That has played out in a number of ways. For example, I have very few concrete memories. As a result of a study I was part of, I’ve been working on being concrete enough to have more than fragments of visual memories. Even my strongest visual memories are only fragments.
In addition, I’ve found that while I think in abstract patterns, being very abstract does not stop me from concrete application. I’m a practicing lawyer. For fifteen years, each year I’ve usually generated over half the summary judgments granted for our area consisting of 4-5 offices of lawyers. While I hold law in my head in a very abstract way, it doesn’t stop me from meaningful application. As a result, I believe that we can have things that are very abstract and yet find meaning in application and that being very abstract does not make them incapable of concrete application.
So that while the general criticism of treating the truth as an abstract is that in order to be abstract enough to be universal, truth must lack any meaning, that isn’t my experience in my day to day life as a lawyer. I’ve had a lifetime of experience where things were different.
In the same way as things work for me with the law, I see religion and spiritual truth that way. That is, that the core truth is very abstract, and takes form in concrete applications that are subject to dynamic application that changes depending on context.
Seeing the truth in its raw form is at a very abstract level does not stop it from being meaningful. Nor does the fact that most expressions of the truth are mediated by culture, context and the fragility of human language stop them from being true. It just means that the language we have to express truth is fragile and incomplete.
In many ways, my view is almost the flip side of cultural relativity. It isn’t that truth is relative, it is that we are limited by culture (and all the things that make it up, such as experience, world view, language and other things) in how we can understand and apply the truth. As a result, what we see changes, but the truth behind it does not.
A good example is that what you might see using blue light might differ from what you see using ultraviolet light and that might differ from what you might see with infrared light or sonar.
Different light sources doesn’t change the nature of what you are seeing, and it doesn’t make ultraviolet light or sonar “right” and the other “wrong” it just makes them an influence on what you see, though at a quantum level the way you see might change what you see, at our level it just changes what you can see.
That also means that as to my understanding of truth, conclusions about the truth should be embraced with a good deal of humility. If your background is different from mine, the same abstract truth may well find application and expression in your life in ways far different from mine.
That would not make the truth any less true, it would only reflect the limits of my understanding.
Questions for our readers:
- Have you ever had something you knew to be true that changed with changes in perspective?
- Have you ever had a situation where someone else’s understanding of the truth turned out to be more accurate than yours because of differences in your backgrounds?
- Did it surprise you to realize that historically, tithing might go to the priests, to the temples, to specific priests or might even go back to the giver to be consumed in a community feast?
- What other things do you think have a dynamic application?
- What have you learned about truth?
Images from wikimedia commons. E.g. By Lbeaumont – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54783353
Here’s a VERY simplistic view: Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. Surely this truth plays out differently in different places, cultures, times, and circumstances.
We tend to look at truth in terms of outward performances — but there are always underlying principles, and that is where the truth really is.
Here’s a thought question. Is lying always a sin?
The Gestapo knocks on your door and asks if there are any Jews in your attic. What is the “right” answer?
To me, “no” is the right answer, and the noble answer, and the honest answer. Others might say that “no” is only honest if there really are no Jews there. But to me, sometimes, the honesty of the question is the deciding factor. Only honest questions deserve honest answers.
Here’s a question for you J I. Is the Denial of blessing And baptizing children of gay parents theologically consistent with the saviors message and the doctrine and covenants in Mormonism? I’d love to hear an honest answer .
MH, Is your question an honest question? Or are you just looking for an argument?
Let me assume the former, and give an honest answer.
I don’t have any insight into the decisions made by the Church, and I cannot speak for the Church. But as I understand, the leaders of the Church consider purposeful homosexual activity to be sin and same-sex marriage to be apostasy. With that as a foundation, the Church adopted a rule that persons living in purposeful homosexual unions cannot present their minor children for Church ordinances. I see the rule more as a limitation on apostate parents rather than on their children. I understand that those children will be eligible for all ordinances once they reach their majority. I also understand that a non-apostate parent can ask for a waiver if the child lives with him or her, instead of with the apostate parent.
To the degree my understanding is correct, I’m at peace with the rule.
Some time ago, when I was a little more naive than I am now, I started a list in which I would collect and post “absolute” truths as I discovered them. Things that are absolutely true with no question. I listed God exists and that Jesus is the Christ as my first and second entries – even though I didn’t really absolutely know. I felt strongly about the Book of Mormon being “true” but I don’t think I listed it. That’s as far as I got with my project – turns out I just wasn’t sure about anything else. And today, I’m less sure about the two items I originally started with. So I nod my head at the validity of the question “Can there be universal truth that has any meaning?”
The world was so much more black and white when I was a young then it is for me now. I think that’s true for most people. I was fortunate, however, to have an experience serving on a work committee in my 20’s with a cross section of people from different walks of life in which I received, for me, a notable insight: Given the same information, some people will arrive at a conclusion or course of action I will never understand but is entirely compatible with their thinking. I haven’t completely learned to accept that but on good days I do. Maybe this is one of those “universal truths”.
JI, yes it was an honest question. While I admire your first comment about how to handle a Nazi asking for a Jew, it seems to me that your response that you are “at peace with the rule,” is anathema to your previous comment. It seems loyalty to the LDS Church is a higher motivation for you than loyalty to God. The policy is clearly a violation of Jesus’ admonition to suffer the children, and a clear violation of D&C which says a child should be baptized at age 8 or the sin be on the parents. I would put this sin on the leaders who put the policy in place, because the gay parents want the child blessed and baptized. LDS Leaders are clearly violating many principles with this policy, which I view as a violation of the 2nd article of faith.
Since loyalty seems so important to you, I question your commitment to lying to save a Jew from a Nazi. It seems to me that if you were a good German citizen who believed in obeying the German law, you would not help a Jew, “one of the least of these.” It is easy to spout one’s righteousness 70 years after the holocaust, but when faced with a similar situation, you being “at peace with the rule” flies in the face of your earlier assertions regarding Nazis and Jews. I have a feeling that you would have been “at peace with the [German] rule” too.
For the record, I admire people who sheltered the Jews in Germany. I don’t know that I would have had the courage to do so, but I hope I would have. I also know that I would have been scared to death to help a Jew for fear of being executed myself. I am not so smug as to state that I would have acted appropriately. I have no idea how I would have acted. But I admire people like Helmuth Hubener who paid the ultimate price. I fear that I would have remained silent in the face of such strong opposition. I may have acted like Peter and denied the Christ too. Sometimes good people simply don’t do the right thing. I admire many, but question my own nobility in the face of opposition.
MH, You lied and took advantage of me. Your question was not an honest question, not an honest inquiry. But of course, you already know that.
I was not aware of the different uses of tithing, interesting. I watched a programme on domestic violence last night, one conservative male on the panel seemed to think they were discussing how some women were encouraged to make false accusations of violence, during separation legal proceedings. He seemed to think this was the main problem and kept coming back to how terrible this was. The others on the panel had expertise in domestic violence, said that was less than 1% of cases and that in the other 99% of cases women were the victims and should be believed.
Often a conservative person will have a very different interpretation of a situation. Trickle down economics, v helping and providing services directly to those who need them.
In church again the obedience/conservative members v those who question. I was an obedience member until the leadership undermined their credibility repeatedly, I am now more circumspect.
I guess I should have asked: “when you see ‘conclusions about the truth should be embraced with a good deal of humility’ does that apply to your own conclusions, or just those of others?”
I’m thinking more of it being my conclusions I should question rather than everyone else’s, but I may have been wrong.
MH, people wanted Christ to bless their children. He wasn’t baptizing them or confirming them, nor was there any evidence that their parents were apostates of the nascent church. I don’t think that it is known with certainty why the apostles rebuked those who were presenting their children, but I suspect it was due to cultural norms and a view that children were not important enough to take up the Master’s time. That is not the case with the church policy on the baptizing of children of those living in a same-sex relationship. I think it is a bit of a logical leap to say that the “suffer the little children” rule applies in all circumstances. It is also ironic that this is happening in a comment on a post about how abstract truths can have different applications depending on context, culture, etc. and that two seemingly different outcomes can both be expressions of the same abstract truth.
It also wasn’t necessary to malign ji’s character or jump to conclusions about his loyalty to various parties, or what he’d do under Nazi rule with Jews living in his attic. When you start getting “feelings” about what other people would have done in certain situations, it sounds like you’re making stuff up.
As for D&C and the sin being on the parents’ heads, well, yeah. If a same-sex couple want their child to be baptized, they have a choice to make. Just like if they want to get a temple recommend, they have a choice to make. Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven. The parents don’t magically get a pass, with the sin moving to the heads of the church, just because they aren’t willing to do what’s necessary to be free of condemnation and receive the desired blessings. That’s like saying that, well, if God had never made a commandment against adultery, then adulterers wouldn’t have sin over their heads, so the sin must be over God’s head for making the rule.
The 2nd Article of Faith is irrelevant as well. Was Job being punished for his own sins? No, he was faithful but still endured many trials. I think we can all agree that the 2nd AoF applies to the Final Judgment, not the trials and tribulations we may experience in this life that “shall give [us] experience, and shall be for [our] good.”
I agree with ji that lying isn’t necessarily a sin, or that it may be a lesser sin when confronted with terrible alternatives. A mirror question: “Is telling the truth always righteousness?” My answer is no, a simple example is gossip might be as true as the sun shining overhead, but it’s generally sinful for me to tell those truths. One could make a case that instead of the Gestapo/hidden Jews being a question of “Is it a sin to lie?” it should rather be a question of “Is it a sin to tell the truth?”
Dave C, Your mirror question is a good one. The gospel is full of paradoxes.
JI, not surprised you called me a liar again. That’s not in keeping with the comment policy. But yes, I am letting your hypocrisy (or as you say “paradoxes”) out for all to see.
EDS, if Jesus reprimanded the apostles for not allowing him to perform a non-salvific blessing on children, why on earth would Jesus be ok with the apostles for preventing baptism (salvific blessing)? That makes zero sense. Others, like Paul Reeve and Greg Prince have stated that clearly the PoX is a violation of the 2nd Article of Faith, so it’s not just me saying that. Check the recent Gospel Tangents podcasts if you want to hear them and their reasoning. Your narrow definition of application of scripture is a poor justification for this clearly unchristian and wrongheaded policy. Frankly your interpretation is wresting the scriptures.
Sorry to detract from the post Steve, but I couldn’t let JI’s “honest” comment go unchallenged, and he isn’t so honest as he implied in that comment. (And then has the audacity to call me a liar. WOW!)
Stephen, I am sorry for MH’s hijacking of your posting, and for my playing into his agenda.
Always the victim.
“Have you ever had something you knew to be true that changed with changes in perspective?”
Yes. An example that comes to mind is fossils. I knew the Earth was only 7000 years old, and that’s in a household occupied by atheists (but cultural infusion gave me a young earth belief). One day I hiked in the mountains and sat on a rock; it was a black rock but filled with small white cone seashells, about 2 inches long each. I tried to chisel one out unsuccessfully. Hard rock! Anyway, it came as a bit of a shock to be sitting here on a mountain on a rock that was undeniably once under water and a very long time ago.
“Have you ever had a situation where someone else’s understanding of the truth turned out to be more accurate than yours because of differences in your backgrounds?”
Frequently. None stand out as an example but I am reminded of my thinking that my grandmother was an “only child” and so one day at the age of 23 I was working on my genealogy and had her listed as the only child of her parents. She corrected me saying, “I was the fourth child of eleven.” You can hardly imagine my speechless surprise contemplating the implications of that — I said, “That means I have cousins!” She said, “Yes, thousands of them.” My father had attempted, successfully to that point, to isolate me from kinfolk.
“Did it surprise you to realize that historically, tithing might go to the priests, to the temples, to specific priests or might even go back to the giver to be consumed in a community feast?”
“What other things do you think have a dynamic application?”
Almost everything. One of my hobbies some years ago was to document every instance of a commandment and its exceptions. it is in the exceptions that you discover the boundary of application. To always obey one specific rule is to make you vulnerable to violating others (a Saul Alinsky rule by the way, always make your opponent live up to his rules, because nobody can actually obey all of them all the time).
It is a trick of the enemy of God to put you in a situation where you must break one rule to obey the other, hoping that you will not choose correctly or wisely; or become paralyzed and choose nothing. Adam was in that situation and established once and for all the principle of choosing a higher law.
In all my study I have found only one commandment that God has never authorized, justified or commanded in contrary, and that is to have no other gods before (pre-eminent) him. You can have as many as you like after (beneath) him.
Nephi broke three principle commandments in one evening — killed Laban, pretended to be Laban, and took the plates. Maybe they were his to take but you’d have to convince judge and jury of that. Even incest appears not to be condemned in the story of Lot and his daughters.
Moses had spies and they didn’t very likely go around announcing they were spies.
Peter denied his relationship with Jesus; three times. It was foretold that he would; which was a type of forgiveness in advance. Peter lied, felt terrible about it (as I remember it anyway), but it was (probably) expedient.
In the movie (and presumably book) The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, we see that the witch has trapped Aslan, the Lion, in a scheme by which he must choose his own death in order to save Peter. But what she does not know is a higher law, that a willing self-sacrifice activates a higher law, releasing him from that prison AND rescuing Peter. This is a brilliant metaphor and explanation of the atonement power of the Son of God.
I mention this since your enemies and the enemy of God is not “illuminated” by these higher laws and you might get trapped, or so you suppose, where you have no way out except to violate this law or that. But that’s okay; there’s always a way out so long as you live, and maybe even after that (but you shouldn’t wait to find out). It is written that Jesus says to be “harmless as doves but wise as serpents.” Matt 10:16
“What have you learned about truth?”
Truth is a knowledge of things as they were, and as they are, and as they are going to be. There is no nook or cranny where something can hide from it. It is not partial or selective; it does not and cannot deceive.
From that “Big T” Truth, comes all other “little t” truths; things that are true.
Every person ought to have one thing he knows for sure. There was a science fiction short story I read decades ago, a man whose memory is wiped out every night. But when he wakes up in the morning he sees a note he has written to himself: “Things I know for sure” and that’s how he starts his day, and tries to build on the things he knows for sure.
The things I know for sure are small in number. I know for sure there is a God (or some sort of supreme being) that knows I exist, cares that I exist, and has created an Earth for me (and others) to enjoy. There’s other things but that’s probably the keystone of the arch, the thing I know for sure and which is immune to controversy.
Sitting on top of that foundation are things I am nearly certain about but am open to correction if someone persuades me of his or her own correctness on that topic.
Mormon Heretic asks “I’d love to hear an honest answer .”
(There it is)
MH (interesting mid-thread name change) says “why on earth would Jesus be ok with the apostles for preventing baptism (salvific blessing)? That makes zero sense.”
I regret not being a Jesus mind-reader to know his reasons for establishing various policies. Sometimes those reasons are given along with the policy (which is the present case). If it is important to you, and you ask God faithfully, he promises to give you an answer. If you seem not to get an answer it is probably because you already have it .
Michael 2, since you’ve weighed in, it seems to me the denial of baby blessings is theologically inconsistent with the Savior’s message, Article of Faith 2, and the Doctrine and Covenants. It seems you disagree with this position. Please cite scriptural justification for the denial of blessing and baptizing children of gay parents, and explain how it doesn’t conflict with AoF 2. (If you claim AoF 2 is about original sin, then I’m afraid we are at an impasse on that point though. I don’t interpret it so narrowly.) And despite not being a mind-reader of Jesus, please justify the denial of baptism in the PoX scripturally.
I’ve prayed faithfully, studied it out in my mind, and received my answer. Convince me my inspiration is worse than yours.
Not tied to the OP, but here I sit all amazed at “Sometimes those reasons are given along with the policy (which is the present case).”
Even if then Elder Nelson were right in characterizing the policy as a revelation to each of the Q15 (none of whom other than himself can be found to have publicly agreed with that characterization, and though the brief characterization of it as a “revealed policy” was deleted from seminary instruction materials), there were no reasons given “along with” the policy. Instead, there was a partial “reason” [or rationalization] given later. If that proposed reason were true, and if the policy makers had actually considered “countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise” then the original policy was fundamentally incompetently drafted. The very existence of the so-called “clarification” letter constitutes an admission that at least (a) the original policy was not established “by Jesus” , or (b) any such “revelation” was incompetently drafted and slipped into the handbook without giving any reasons. That “clarification” letter didn’t clarify, but fundamentally changed the original policy over the signatures of 3 of the Q15 not including Elder Nelson. Some believe it didn’t change the policy far enough. I can find no public information on what any of the Q15 other than Elder Nelson actually think of the policy, even as clarified. (Unlike his conference talks, the later, scripted Elder Christofferson interview in which a reason was given does not look or sound to me like a man who actually believes what he is saying. It comes across more like a man who is somewhat reluctantly fulfilling his then PR assignment. The “clarification” letter changes one of the worst parts of the original policy over the signatures of Presidents Monson, Eyring, and Uchtdorf, but does not address the rest.) Under these circumstances how anyone can characterize the policy as established by Jesus or given “along with reasons” is beyond me.
Mormon Heretic writes “it seems to me the denial of baby blessings is theologically inconsistent with the Savior’s message”
That much was evident from your original question.
“It seems you disagree with this position”
Batting 1000 today!
“Please cite scriptural justification for the denial of blessing and baptizing children of gay parents”
You overestimate my need and willingness to justify my beliefs to you. I believe that Jesus message for today is published by modern prophets taking into account current legal and spiritual realities. They may cite ancient scripture or they may cite scripture they wrote ten minutes ago; the more recent supersedes ancient although if it is very different it ought to be explained.
“If you claim AoF 2 is about original sin, then I’m afraid we are at an impasse on that point though.”
I do and we are. Good luck with the proof-texting when the text can change at any moment.
Truly moronic answers. Wish I could say “thanks for playing,” but your comments here are a complete waste of everyone’s time. I’m not sure why you even weighed in with stupid comments like that.
MH observes “your comments here are a complete waste of everyone’s time.”
Fortunately it is your choice how to waste your time. I doubt you speak for everyone.
“Wish I could say thanks for playing,”
No doubt; but you are now playing my game.
“That was the Savior’s pattern. He always was firm in what was right and wrong. He never excused or winked at sin. He never redefined it. He never changed His mind. It was what it was and is what it is and that’s where we are, but His compassion, of course, was unexcelled and His desire and willingness and proactive efforts to minister, to heal, to bless, to lift, and to bring people toward the path that leads to happiness never ceased.”