I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
I’ve looked at life from both sides nowJoni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now”
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
Adam Grant describes his book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know as “an invitation to let go of knowledge and opinions that are no longer serving you well, and to anchor your sense of self in flexibility rather than consistency.” Two major themes are (1) knowing what we don’t know is “wisdom”; and (2) a critical cognitive skill in turbulent times is “the ability to rethink and unlearn” rather than simply the ability to think and learn.
Full disclosure, I haven’t read the book (although it’s sitting on my nightstand) – just several articles written by Grant and about the ideas in the book. But the minute I heard these concepts I thought, “that makes a ton of sense!” Although I suppose I must also reserve the right to change my mind later about whether it’s good to change one’s mind. In any event, right now, it seems that an unwillingness to revisit deeply held convictions is at the root of a lot of rot today and everyone would be better off if, instead of criticizing people for “flip flopping,” we celebrated people who have the curiosity, humility, and integrity to change their mind when presented with new evidence or changing circumstances.
Since considering Grant’s argument, I’ve been thinking about issues I’ve changed my mind about over my lifetime and what they have taught me about what it takes to change a person’s mind. Probably the biggest one for me – seriously! – is dogs. I have never really liked dogs (probably partially because of some bad experiences with dogs as a kid) and was adamant we would never get one. Well, enter (1) some kids with anxiety, (2) me researching dogs and picking the breed I’d want if I ever got one, (3) my sister independently coming to the same conclusion on breeds and finding a litter of that type and letting us know she was getting one, and (4) Covid (what better time to break in a puppy!) and … we got a dog two years ago. And I have done a complete 180 on them. I am obsessed with my dog and think getting her is one of the best decisions we ever made. And I love other people’s dogs a lot more now than I used to (although mine is still the best).
This shift was really only made possible by my own experience with our dog. No matter how many people told me how great dogs were, or how much I read about them, I didn’t really change my mind about dogs until I got one and experienced it myself. In thinking about other areas where I’ve changed my mind significantly, these also often were rooted in life experiences that forced me to revisit old assumptions. I had an experience that opened my mind to the possibility that a previous conviction could be wrong, and then I looked at research and data and other people’s experiences (many of which I may have seen before, but ignored), and changed my views.
Well, that’s great–a favorite quote from Christian Wiman is “[i]f you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, then you have not lived–or have denied the reality of your life.” But we can’t all experience everything. So how can we open ourselves to new information without that kind of personal connection? I think that’s really important. And I honestly don’t know the answer.
When I’ve looked at areas where I’ve changed my mind, I’ve also noticed there aren’t many areas where I’ve done a complete 180. The lyrics to the song I quoted above really resonate with me and I have generally been a pretty “shades of gray” thinker. So maybe I’ve changed from being certain about something to being less certain, or nuanced in one direction to being nuanced in another. Total radical changes have been rare for me (but do exist).
So, what do you think?
- Are there things in our Church culture that discourage us from changing our minds? How could we improve that?
- Do you have an example of an area where you’ve completely changed your mind? What caused that change?
- How can we do better at being open to new information and beliefs without a personal experience forcing us to do so?
If a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged, a nuanced member is a TBM with a LGBTQ child (or grandchild in my case). That will change you 180 deg.
And too bad you couldn’t have found picture of people with Crocs on their feet!
I know I’m not the only one who has gone from knowing what is true to NOT knowing what is true. And the old me would have been horrified at the prospect of the new me not knowing what should be known. I would have viewed this as a weakness…a weakness of faith or character or intellect. I really looked down on the doubters and the skeptics and I labeled them as “fence sitters”. And I extended this mentality to my personal politics. I couldn’t stand the moderates and I was particularly bothered by RINOs (Republican in name only). Oddly, even as a conservative I always had a certain respect for dedicated liberals because at least they stood for something.
As I have transitioned out of the Church, I have adopted a healthy respect for what I call the “I don’t know” crowd. I’m proud to be a part of this group now. I don’t say that God exists or that he doesn’t. I don’t say that any Church is true or untrue. It’s not that I don’t have standards or ethics. It’s just that I feel like I am in no position to say that Christianity is more valid than Islam or Hinduism or Atheism. As for politics, I view the political spectrum not as a line from left to right but a circle in which AOC and Trump aren’t really that far apart.
Once you transition to an “I don’t know” mentality, it’s amazing how wonderful and enlightening you perceive your fellow man / woman to be. There are wonderful people out there with all kinds of wonderful ideas that you aren’t interested in if you already know everything that is true. It’s nice to discover these folks even if it takes 50 years to start doing so.
Well, if a conservative is a liberal who got mugged, then a liberal is a conservative that got a college degree.
Utah has a bit of anti-intellectualism and a real fear that a college education will make the kids lose their testimony. I do think that advanced education can teach the critical thinking skills that one needs to evaluate one’s beliefs.
Another good way to change your beliefs is cognitive behavioral therapy. In fact, it is based on teaching you to look critically at the beliefs that not only are not serving you well, but making you hurt inside. These are mostly beliefs you have about yourself and the people around you, not religious beliefs, but quite often once you learn to challenge your own thoughts and look at the beliefs they are based on, you go ahead and look at your religious beliefs that are hurting you. One of my psychology professors used to say that his psychoanalysis training required him to go through therapy himself and it was the best education he ever got, and he is sorry now that people can get a PhD in psychology without having to go through a years worth of therapy themselves.
I too used to look down on people that didn’t know, because I thought one could know, and that I did know. I now realize I didn’t know and I don’t know. And when I started to realize that I was losing what I thought I knew, I expected to be terrified at the prospect.
But do you know what? I’m not at all terrified. I kind of like the idea of not knowing. There’s a lot I know about how things work in this life, enough sometimes to make it mundane. But the thought that I don’t know anything really about the beyond excites me. It’s like looking forward to Christmas morning when you didn’t peek in your parents hiding places before hand. I’m actually genuinely excited to see what’s next, if anything.
I converted if you will from conservatism to liberalism in my mid-20’s, about a decade before my faith journey. So yes I completely changed my mind. My wife’s family were all liberal. And while the siblings would challenge me on things to try and change my POV, that only made me retrench. Rather it was watching my saint of a MIL, may she rest in peace, live her liberalism without ever really discussing it with me that changed my mind.
The church absolutely uses thought stopping techniques and they really are too numerous for me to even start up here without my blood pressure rising.
I’ve been reading that book for a while now, too. Here and there, in snippets. One of the podcasts I listen to also included an interview with the author (I think this was last week). It reminds me of the book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), another great read. The author points out in that book that we never have the experience of being wrong, even when we change our belief or perspective. We are now newly right, and we were wrong in the past, so we don’t remember what that was like in a real sense. There are a few other great quotes from that book that I’ll share:
“The trouble is that once people develop an implicit theory, the confirmation bias kicks in and they stop seeing evidence that doesn’t fit it.”
“Most people, when directly confronted by evidence that they are wrong, do not change their point of view or course of action but justify it even more tenaciously.”
“A president who justifies his actions to the public might be induced to change them. A president who justifies his actions to himself, believing that he has the truth, is impervious to self-correction.”
Good stuff. I always ask myself if my preference for an open-minded viewpoint isn’t itself a way of being closed-minded. After all, I am judgmental of provincial attitudes or people who are over-confident. I try to keep that attitude in check by remembering that without provincialism there would be no regional food and culture to make travel interesting and pleasurable. Without overconfidence, we’d all be vanilla cultural onlookers like me, tourists on this planet instead of the makers of culture. My open-minded perspective on the church was fostered by being raised in a very active, believing household, but my best friend’s mother had left the church, and she was also very influential on me, a second mother, someone I truly admired. To me, that was my second family from almost as long as I can remember.
To answer your question about how to counter our closed-minded tendencies, I think it’s important to recognize the techniques our mind uses (and there is plenty of Church rhetoric that encourages us to be closed-minded, to reinforce commitment to the Church’s goals rather than our own personal growth). Here are some of the tactics that close our minds that I watch for: 1) assuming others with whom I disagree are stupid, lazy, or evil, 2) not listening to others or taking their thoughts or ideas or feelings seriously, 3) assuming the strength of my feelings about something is an indication of how right I am, 4) ignoring my own confirmation bias. Within the Church, there are several that are specific: 1) Alma 32 is essentially a lesson in confirmation bias, 2) scripture stories in which God’s voice trumps conscience feel psychologically suspicious, 3) vilifying ex-Mormons and shunning them, 4) discouraging “outside sources” in lessons, 5) creating an entire curriculum of church talks is a total circle jerk, 6) leaders quoting leaders is another self-reinforcing loop, 7) families who refuse to let their friends play with non-Mormon kids, 8) trying to prevent LGBT BYU students from self-identifying, 9) the racist roots that have resulted in a Church of very few black members, so we don’t have to actually confront our racist roots, 10) telling people to put things on a shelf or sing a hymn as a way to stop thoughts. I could probably go on, but that’s a pretty good starter list.
In the last 20 years I’ve changed my mind quite a bit. On the church, I used to believe its teachings. I now no longer do. But that change didn’t come at once. It was a long process drawn out over years. What influenced me to change my worldview was John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories. Hearing other people who grew up in a background and environment similar to mine express what made them stop believing made me sympathize with them and undertake introspection in myself about what I believed and why. It gave me impetus to explore new ideas and the world of ex-believers. By and by I let down my guard that I had put up against “anti-Mormon” literature and simply found critical arguments more convincing than what the church leaders and believing intellectuals had to say.
I changed my mind politically as well. I used to generally accept the Republican Party and toyed with libertarianism during my college years in the early 2000s. Over time, I grew increasingly liberal and accepting of the Democratic Party, and remain so. The rise of Obama converted me fully to the Democratic Party. Trump and Trumpism have done little to lure me back into the Republican Party. The process of change of political persuasion was similar to what I experienced with the Mormon church. I came to know Democrats and liberals, hear their arguments over time, hear their gripes with the GOP and conservatives, hear why they supported liberal ideas, and gradually I came to identify myself more with them than with conservatives. It was a process that didn’t happen at once but over the course of years.
I listened to a podcast with Adam Grant. I think his plea for open-mindedness is refreshing in many regards. We should be parsimonious in what we believe to be the right answer. Willing to explore different ways of thinking and ideas. We should also demand evidence, understand what good evidence is, and built our opinions based on the best, most available, and most plentiful evidence.
That said, there is value to standing strong behind some ideas. There is a time for open-mindedness and exploration, but also a time to commit to a set of ideas and ideals and push hard for those. There is a time for entertaining various options and a time for conviction. There was a time right at the beginning of COVID to think over what was happening and hear out different opinions from various experts. Once it became abundantly clear that COVID was a massive threat, the claimed open-mindedness of skeptics against mainstream opinion began to appear more and more to be denialism. That denialism turned into conspiracism and lunacy full of all sorts of bad faith arguments, logical fallacies, and double standards. It became clear who was right and who was wrong. It became clear who had evidence and who didn’t. By and by I had to grow conviction that the mainstream public health officials were right about the threat of COVID and the effectiveness of vaccines. More and more the idea of being open-minded to the arguments of anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers (when masks were needed) just seemed paradoxically closed-minded. Why? Because the anti-vaxxers weren’t open-minded to the abundance of evidence that was available and would seize on anomalies and extrapolate well beyond those to jump to preposterous conclusions. Now were there overreactions to the threat of COVID? Absolutely. A disastrous overreaction to COVID is playing out right now in China with draconian lockdowns that are unnecessarily impacting China’s economy as well as the global economy. But like the anti-vaxxers in the US, the Chinese government is similarly acting on bad faith and bad evidence.
I’d love to know the breed of your dog because I actually had the opposite change of mind. I used to love dogs. After taking my darling golden doodle to the dog park and having another dog bite my son, who defended himself with an umbrella he was holding, my love for dogs has waned significantly. The people at the dog park were much more worried about the “poor dog who was hit” than my son who was bitten.
Church related though, my view of the Hebrew Bible has changed significantly. Coming from a heavy dose of CES, almost anti-Semitic, dismissal of the Old Testament, I hadn’t seriously studied it until this year with CFM. I love learning more about the historical context, reading the chapters that aren’t included- pondering why they were left out (#propheticinfallibility), and expanding my view of God.
Key question: WHY do people change their mind about this or that? If it’s because they acquire additional information or have some additional life experiences of because they look at the world more broadly after working in this or that field for a few years — those are good and defensible reasons for changing. If people change their mind about this or that because of peer or family pressure, or because of a stream of misinformation from a government or church, or just because they are flighty and adopt the views of the last person they talked to (Trump is like this, they say) — those are bad reasons for changing one’s mind.
I don’t expect any LDS leader to come out and say, “It’s nice if you keep your testimony of the Church and accept its truth claims at face value, but keep an open mind, practice self-criticism, read lots of books from different viewpoints.” That’s just life. There are very few institutions that *ever* counsel adherents to question the basic premises and raison-d’etre of the institution. But adults should know enough about like to be lifelong learners and make informed decisions about the important things in life — regardless of institutional attempts to shut down that sort of thing. The alternative is to be a sucker waiting to be taken advantage of in the world — by shady investment scams, by opportunistic politicians, by crooked businesses, and yes by misguided churches. It’s nice there are so many psychology types writing advice books for a popular audience, but that may be overthinking the issue. “There’s a sucker born every minute — read enough books that you don’t become one of them” is sufficient to keep most adults out of trouble. Good advice that most people just don’t take.
@john w, I think you’ve hit on something I’ve been thinking about which is that the only way I think we change our mind (at least on some deeply-held beliefs) without *experiencing* something ourselves is by listening, and listening, and listening to the experiences of other people. It seems crazy to me that Mormon Stories will do 6 hour interviews with people and that people actually listen. But we do! And I think the long-form aspect of it is EXACTLY why it’s effective in fostering empathy and understanding IMO. Having someone get on and list all the reasons they left the Church isn’t compelling at all. Having someone tell their story and their experiences – some of which may resonate with you and some of which will give you a perspective you didn’t get from your own experience – makes it a lot harder to just dismiss them out of hand.
@Bishop Bill, that makes sense, but I think what’s I’m saying is that it’s a failure on our part if we wait until we have an LGBTQ child (or grandchild, or other close association) to take a good look at the issue and potentially change our minds. Now, most people are going to end up in that situation at some point – and of course there are plenty of families out there who do NOT change their views on queer folks, which is sad to me – but I would like to live in a world where you don’t have to have a queer kid to care about queer kids and LGBTQ rights.
@Laura, I have a cavapoo. But don’t get me wrong – people are people and dogs are animals. I love our dog, but I would NOT be happy with that dog bite situation or an owner who was more concerned about the dog than your kid. That kind of thing drives me nuts. And I don’t like irresponsible dog owners.
@Angela C yes, yes, and yes to all of those biases and thoughts. Also reminds me of Brian McLaren’s “Learning to See” podcast, which goes through a ton of cognitive biases and is super helpful.
josh h, yes, you’re right that there is liberation in saying we don’t know. I think your willingness to question conservatism and reject its Trumpist elements is refreshing and certainly welcome. That said I take some issue with your following assertion:
“I view the political spectrum not as a line from left to right but a circle in which AOC and Trump aren’t really that far apart.”
To me, this seems to be a rather bold statement about how the state of politics appears in the US, which is that of the shape of a horseshoe, where the Republicans and Democrats have their extremes among those who hold office, and that those extremes are actually very much alike. Having studied Trump’s and AOC’s positions myself for considerable time, I believe it can be cogently argued in light of a vast array of evidence that the two politicians, their views, and their tactics are incredibly different by pretty much all available metrics and that there is little that we could consider valid overlap or similarity beyond simple comparisons (i.e., the two are passionate in their views, willing to criticize others in their respective parties, like to communicate with their followers through social media, etc., which aren’t saying that much).
But alas, I have found categorization in US politics to be a maddening task. Yes, there are two sides/both sides in the sense that there are two leading parties who occupy almost all political positions in the US (Bernie Sanders is an exception, of course, not being registered as a Democrat). We can say that there are both sides in the context of US Congress. Both Republican and Democratic members. Once we get to the Republican and Democratic electorate (in 2020, only 66.9% of the voting-age population actually voted), the both sides argument becomes increasingly problematic. For in reality, the two leading parties in the US are broad coalitions of various voters, and voters that are not historically locked in to one party or another. When we look at the entire population of 331 million Americans, both sides arguments fall apart completely, for the US has an incredibly large and diverse population whose political identities are significantly varied and in almost constant flux. I have found it very frustrating to nail down what “conservative” and “liberal” even mean. Yes, of course, I’m comfortable using those terms since we can gather good ideas from polling data about common beliefs that individuals share to the extent that we can identify a larger group of people as “US political conservatives.” But when we look at “conservative” across 50 years, then that gets much harder to nail down. Additionally we have to take into consideration how informed of what it means to be conservative or progressive the average self-identifying conservative or progressive is. I remember when I identified as conservative in my early 20s, I honestly didn’t have a good understanding of a wide range of issues. I was self-identifying as conservative because of a select issue or two, or because family and friends identified as such, and it just seemed the right thing to do.
Re Q1: I think there are many things in our Church that hamper our ability to change. Two that come to mind:
1) Change comes from the top in response to the unified voice of the Q15. We are told that any one of them can block a change. I think this provides a stabilizing if conservative influence so that we aren’t blown about by every wind of doctrine, but it also prevents necessary change as long as one member of the upper quorums is unconvinced. (I think this shows up in the why OD2 came in ’78 rather than earlier).
2) A cultural preference for “certainty”. Again, I think OD2 provides some insight into how certainty delays change. I see this more in the creationism vs. evolution debate, where a big part of the debate is because Elders McConkie and Fielding Smith expressed in very certain terms that evolution and the Gospel were incompatible (Elder Smith called in an unbridgeable gap and Elder McConkie called it a deadly heresy). Being certain that we already know everything there is to know about something clearly gets in the way of changing.
Re Q2: The best example from my life that comes to mind was evolution. Growing up, my environment convinced me that evolution was incompatible with the Gospel and a heresy, but allowed it as a necessary evil of a bio-ag education (even at BYU). Then Dr. Jeffries during his evolution class at BYU pulled out his hominid skulls and started talking about hominid evolution. It was a bit tortuous for me, but eventually I realized that my creationist past was wrong. As I think about it, the thing that made the change most difficult was the sense of certainty I mentioned above. If I or those around me (who were mostly responding to the certainty of Elder McConkie and similar) had been less certain about it, it would not have been a big deal.
Re Q3: I hate to beat this drum too much, but I think this certainty is a big part of what shuts down needed change, so I would say that one key element of being open to change is to ease up on the certainty. Be humble about what we really know and don’t know.
My most prized possession is a journal of sorts that I call my “Book of Knowledge”. After studying, thinking, and receiving what I feel is a spiritual confirmation of Truth, I make an entry in my Book of Knowledge and I try to live true to that truth. It’s a wide ranging book covering topics of both spiritual and secular knowledge. There are a lot of empty pages in my book. Some sections have questions written at the top of the page, and nothing else written because I haven’t found that answer yet.
A critical and important part of my book is that I leave blank pages after each section- to add to when I gain more knowledge on the subject. Also allowed and common, is that I cross out what I previously wrote in my book and label it as wrong (or partially wrong or incomplete), and write a new entry of “Knowledge” on the subject.
When my kids go off to college, I am going to give each of them a copy of my Book of Knowledge- with blank pages after each section, so that they can take what I have learned and then cross it out and write their own statement of knowledge on each section (if they choose).
I think it’s a good thing to have an attitude of “This is what I know right now, and I’ll do the best with what I have, but I hope to learn more in the future (because the stuff I know right now is probably wrong or incomplete).” I believe the church teaches this, but doesn’t do very good at practicing it. “We believe all that God has revealed… and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
In 2014 I was a gay man in a mixed orientation marriage doing a mediocre job balancing my sexuality and my faith; 5 years later, I was a gay man separated from a mixed orientation marriage realizing my faith had really messed up my sexuality. What precipitated the change? The 2015 handbook change towards gays and their children made me open my eyes. It’s funny how just about anything can trigger a tectonic worldview shift
My parents joined the church when they were in their early 30s. When mum went into a nursing home her primary carer was a woman who was visibly tattooed. Initially this was a problem, until the care overshadowed the tatoos, and mum came to accept/love her. She even came to mums funeral.
I still have trouble not judging people who drink or smoke. But recently my wife said she would be miffed if she found out wine was not a problem for God. Me too.
We have 10 days until a federal election. Our present Prime Minister is a hillsong evangelical, and has been accused by people on his own side of being a liar and corrupt. Corrupt in the sense of choosing grants by political benifits v need. He is more charismatic than his opponent and makes statements authoratively whether they are true or not. At present he is 8 points behind in the poles, though he was 4 points behind last time.
There has been no mention of abortion or gay marriage during the election, thought the conservatives, are dog whisteling with comments about trans women in sport.
We have an interesting development of teal independents running in safe conservative seats, their main policies being: climate change, having a federal corruption commision, and equality for women. They are all women, and are funded by a group called climate 200. Polling says they may unseat a couple og ministers.
In Australia the conservative party is called the Liberal party, they are liberal by Republican standards, believing in abortion, gay marriage, and climate change (recently). They are the party of business.
I will be voting for Labor because they care for the poor, and make reforms and run the economy to help those who need help.
We have compulsory voting, and the electorate boundaries, voting, and vote counting, and announcing the winner, are done by the electoral commision. No gerrymandering, or stolen elections.
Election night will be very interesting.
What do you call it when a machine is more caring than other machines? I have just bought a 2017 car that gives the people in the front seats a hug, by tightening the seatbelts for a couple of seconds. The sat nav also says “please” turn left in 500m. Do American cars do that too?
Great post. I concluded a while ago that changing one’s mind was vital to learning, but I find it happens less often than I would have thought. I’d like to think it’s a result of being one who carefully takes a little longer to form an opinion than most people do (sort of an open-ended opinion in many cases), but stubbornness probably is a minor factor as well.
Question 1. I’ll readily admit there are things in Church culture that prevent us from changing our minds. Truthfully, I think emphasis on proper channels is part of it, which I can understand. I think greater emphasis on learning, seeking wisdom, and studying things out will help with this, which I think the Church does fairly well, but we as members could probably take a step further.
Question 2. I was a registered independent when I was eighteen. I’m now a libertarian-leaning conservative. I think a fairly broad definition of liberty is one of the most moral positions to take. I used to think America could police the world. I now think there are very, very few reasons America should be involved in any war and even occasionally find myself thinking of certain liberals as warmongers at times. I used to think the goal of every American should be a four-year degree or more. I now realize that doesn’t play to everyone’s strengths. I have one child who hasn’t hit ten yet and has now done more work on cars than his father has, but he’s not limited to automobiles. I have a feeling his skills will likely garner him an income to rival his peers if he so chooses a path outside a university.
Question 3. Just keep reading, studying, and thinking critically. I don’t think prayer hurts either, whether you think it’s real or more of an exercise of psychological self-assessment.
Looking through the other comments, I will say that I do get just slightly turned off by the “I now know I don’t know and I’m super humble about it” comments at times. Despite the humility, there always seems to be a searing implication of “That therefore makes me better than a believer” stuffed between the lines. Maybe I’m just a little sensitive in this case. I know many like to paint active members of the Church as surface believers with a load of doubts broiling deep down, but I finally had to admit years ago that I really am a believer deep down who loves to entertain doubts closer to the surface. I’m no longer all that judgmental when it comes to the non-believer, but I rarely see their road as somehow rising above where it was previously. It’s just a different direction. And although I love to keep many of my opinions open-ended (regarding Church and everyday life), I try not to let the fact that it may not be fully formed therefore paralyze me from moving forward in the majority of my decisions.
I personally think Alma 32 is one of the greatest chapters in scripture, where the “mind doth begin to expand” means having a mind capable of accepting truth wherever it can be found.
I’m glad you enjoy your dog. I wanted one as a child but that wasn’t an option. I wasn’t sure I wanted one as an adult but my wife came from a dog owning family. We currently have a smooth collie (short-haired version of Lassie). He’s a little more independent than most collies already are, prefers other dogs to his humans, and will occasionally bark up a storm, but guards our chickens like they’re his own puppies and really does make the Lassie stories look textbook in many ways. Although I’ve often wondered about what variety of wildlife our Heavenly Parents put on other planets, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the Grey Wolf, with clear potential for domestication, is probably standard issue.
Regarding how to open oneself up to change –
I was never going to experience being gay, and applying the golden rule obviously hadn’t worked for my first fifty years. What really opened me up to changing was seeing my kids, who I tend to think of somewhat as a copy of me, have a totally different outlook and position. It made me think, Maybe I should emulate *them.*
And regarding dogs – me, too. I love ours so much and wish I’d gotten ones decades earlier than I did. Once again, it was our kids who led the way.
I was raised in a devout lds family, without any particular political persuasion. We had lawn signs featuring candidates from different parties, but who my parents believed were ethical people. We had subscriptions to the Deseret News, Dialogue, Sunstone, and science magazines.
When I was a youth at church, my friend’s mom encouraged us to read a daily local newspaper, and a weekly news magazine. She was invited by our teacher, so I only ever heard her advice one time. Some things stick with you.
I gradually adopted that habit over the next few years. Even when money was very tight, (our only car running on one cylinder), we’d ride bikes and trikes to a newspaper stand to purchase the Sunday paper. We lived several different places, and it was a really good part of understanding our new community.
News sources today have a lot more diversity, ranging from far left to far right polarizing opinions. Fortunately, there are graphs that place news sites somewhere along the continuum. Choosing those that hover around the central axis is wise.
I think that is a good basis for understanding what is going on, seeing things from the perspective of people most impacted, placing things in a historical perspective. Involving multiple life aspects: nutrition, health, our natural world, political movements, etc.
Like so many others here, my viewpoint has developed over time. It still is.
My wife and I flip-flopped on the issue of dogs a year ago and we are all in love now. I am glad you used that as an example.
I think the primary task of the human brain is to build and maintain a model of ourselves and others and how the world works. It is far more common to see someone admit they made major mistakes in their life than to admit that their take on themselves, others, and the universe has been fundamentally wrong and needs some updating. At the same time the model our brain holds will never come close to matching what really is.
I try to remember that scientists have faith crises too. A friend of mine was very gung-ho about science but when he took his graduate level quantum mechanics classes he realized that the wavefunction of the universe is fundamentally unmeasurable and unknowable. He was depressed for a few months because he realized that the universe could never give him the sense of surety that he expected of it. He had to adapt to seeing through a veil darkly, which is a good analogy for how quantum measurements cannot give very much of what reality is.
“Looking through the other comments, I will say that I do get just slightly turned off by the ‘I now know I don’t know and I’m super humble about it’ comments at times. Despite the humility, there always seems to be a searing implication of ‘That therefore makes me better than a believer’ stuffed between the lines”
Not the sense I’ve gotten from any of the comments, nor does this characterize how I explain myself, if you’re referring to my comments. The post is about people changing their minds. And some have responded that they have changed their minds over time with regards to church teachings. The journey described is that they once had certainty about particular Mormon church truth claims that turned into increasing uncertainty over time. Further suggested appears to be the idea that 1) the Mormon church pushes certainty around a specific set of claims, 2) reality appears to be less certain than what church leaders often claim, and 3) that there is actual a certain liberation to resigning oneself to the position of “I don’t know.” Less cognitive dissonance, less discomfort with people expressing views that run counter to church leader teachings, less feeling of guilt about possibly believing the wrong thing, and less stress about feeling having to assert knowledge of a set of traditional truth claims and defend it before others. Also less stress in the face of apologists and apologist mimickers who tend to place the burden of proof on the non-believer to show that the Book of Mormon or Mormon truth claims aren’t true. The position of “I don’t know” relieves the non-believer or ex-believer of any such burden, If anything it is a position made as an attempt to find a peace with those who claim to know the truthfulness of Mormon church truth claims and not subjecting them to undue burdens of having to prove to the non-believer’s satisfaction that what their asserting is actually true. The “I don’t know” position is one in which the believer and non-believer can recognize and respect each other’s space. In fact, it would appear to be the best position to help non-believers and believers feel in relation to one another than neither side is asserting a “better-than-you” attitude. Saying “I know you’re wrong” would add tension.
In my experience it is hard for many believers to simply accept the mere existence of people who once believed who no longer believe. I often hear believers say, “I know you believe,” which suggests their complete denial of an inconvenient reality to them that their loved ones simply no longer believe and can even arrive at such a position. “You think you’re better than me?” is a strongly suggested sentiment expressed by many believers in relation to formerly believing loved ones. Sometimes it is followed by a projected “I’m actually better than you sentiment” in the form of something akin to this: “I’ve seen and read what skeptics have to say and I still believe. I’ve worked hard at my testimony, faith, and obedience. Your testimony is weak, you simply need to pray more, attend the temple more, study the scriptures more, read the apologists more, etc.” Of course, not all believers are like this. But let’s not ignore the insufferable arrogance and smugness of many believers, many of whom make it a game to see how stubbornly believing they can remain in the face of the mountains of counterevidence against the church’s truth claims. It is almost as if testimony to these type of folks is measured by how denialistic they can be, how much they can engage in mental gymnastics, and how much cognitive dissonance they can sustain. It is like cognitive dissonance is an end unto itself and you’re weak, and even unintellectual, if you seek logical consistency, parsimony, Occam’s Razor, and seek to ground yourself in falsifiable positions..
When politicians get accused of flip-flopping, its because of the perception of pandering to certain audiences, rather than a general abhorrence to people having the right to change their mind and evolve in their thinking. It’s seen as a betrayal of the voter’s expectations, since people vote for issues, not just candidates. When Obama won the election in 2008, he was publicly opposed to legalizing same-sex marriage. But during his time in office, his position on that issue evolved and reversed, and he seemed to be very much in support of the Obergefell decision, lighting the White House in rainbow colors the following evening. And I don’t recall the media making a meal of that at all, or accusing him of flip-flopping.
In my own life, I’ve come to view it as a sign of maturity when someone is willing to change their mind when presented with new information, especially when the new information contradicts deeply-held old information. And I’ve learned to do this despite my upbringing in the Church, not because of it. I grew up being taught to be “steadfast and immoveable” in my faith, to “hold to the rod”, to build “house upon the rocks”, and all sorts of other metaphors that suggest a totally rigid, unwavering belief. I was taught that knowledge comes “line upon line” like layers of bricks, which works until you realize the building is sagging because the foundation is cracked and needs to be dug out and re-poured. More recently, we get messages to “doubt your doubts” (ignore contradictory evidence) and “stay in the boat” (loyalty to the institution is more important than the truth). Also, the gerontocracy that leads the Church is a factor; elderly people tend to thrive on consistency and predictability, and are pretty set in their ways. We seem to forget that Jesus taught us to suspend judgement and avoid harmful snap decisions, even when it goes against tradition (such as with the woman taken in adultery).
Jack Hughes, you speak for me too. I was blessed with the most inspirational AP American History teacher in high school. He’d never taught the class before and never did again after that year, so it was a unique and unforgettable experience. The sign outside his door read “Stop! Sloppy thinking not allowed beyond this point.”
On day one Mr. B told us that his goals were first to teach us to think for ourselves and then to teach history in such a way that we could look at it from differing viewpoints before making an informed opinion. None of my friends and I in that small class had ever had a teacher state those kind of goals! Every class began with a moral/ethical dilemma that usually applied to what we were currently studying. First of all I figured that as good Mormon these sorts of things would NEVER happen to me. When we gave Mr. B our standard church style answers he would prod us to think beyond those pat answers. Often he would purposely take the opposite viewpoint in order to show where we were using lazy thinking. Over time I began to realize that making snap judgements, relying on my own “certainty” about various issues or relying on what other influential people in my life said was capital T TRUE was robbing me of the ability to learn, grow and make my own decisions based on personal preparation and thought. I also learned to take responsibility for my thoughts and beliefs so that if new reliable evidence showed that my belief(s) needed updating or an outright total change I could do so humbly without feeling so threatened that I was stuck in the past and unable to move forward.
A while ago I found a marvelous quote by author E.L. Doctorow when he was in conversation with the journalist and and host of many PBS shows and documentaries Bill Moyers that describes my thoughts about unexamined ideas and beliefs-most especially about the church right now.
“When ideas go unexamined and unchallenged for a very long time, they become mythological and very, very powerful. They create conformity. They intimidate.”
Of course, this viewpoint would be seen as rank apostasy by some church members and leaders. However, imagine for a moment what our church could be in terms of truly representing the life and teachings of the Savior if we could actually challenge, examine and change many of the beliefs that are so harmful to the entire church.
BTW nearly all of those moral and ethical dilemmas that Mr. B presented every day in class have happened to me. Some of them were particularly challenging, but thanks to my fantastic teacher who taught us to think for ourselves and how to confront moral and ethical challenges in an honorable way I’ve been able to make what I’ve felt to be the best possible decisions that have been congruent with my spiritual beliefs. No regrets.
@aporetic, love the journal.
@poor wayfaring stranger, LOVE that quote: “When ideas go unexamined and unchallenged for a very long time, they become mythological and very, very powerful. They create conformity. They intimidate.”
@eli, I’m sure there are some nuanced Mormons who look down on orthodox Mormons. I’m also sure there are some orthodox Mormons who look down on nuanced Mormons. Honestly, though, in my experience I think we are projecting our own insecurities on each other and assuming we are looking down on or judging one another when honestly, most people aren’t. Most people are just too busy dealing with their own stuff.
Thanks for comments folks. Some helpful nuggets for me to consider.
My comment was not specifically directed at yours. Ultimately, I recognize that most everyone believes the way they do after doing their best to come to the truth—personally at the very least—but recognizing universal application may also be possible and shareable. I do think “I don’t know” is a viable position and one I hold on a number of things. However, I’ve experienced or witnessed enough conversations in which “I don’t know” eventually turned into a smug “And you can’t or don’t know either,” in search of an admission that I couldn’t give with any amount of integrity. Maybe I let those conversations taint this one.
I’ve also seen my fair share of smugness from orthodox believers. Forced to calculate a percentage, I’d say it’s higher among non-believers, but that may admittedly be a natural consequences of trying to spend a good portion of my time around people who don’t believe as I do. I suppose there may also be a projectionist aspect, as Elisa mentioned above.
I grow less judgmental of the nonbeliever with each passing day. I’ll admit it’s always nice to see the favor returned.
Rabbi Nilton Bonder wrote that the Biblical expression “knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17) refers not to acquired consciousness of moral categories, but to an acquired access to the tension of contradictory propositions that exist in all Creation. From the eating of the forbidden fruit to this day, men and women have been faced the challenged of perceiving the ambiguities of reality.
Bonder then related the following folk story:
Two Jews sought out a rabbi to settle a dispute. Arriving at the rabbi’s house, they found him studying, while his wife sat is a corner of the room. The rabbi inquired, “What is your complaint?”
The first plaintiff laid out his argument in convincing fashion, to which the rabbi reacted, “So you are right!” Then the rabbi turned to the second plaintiff: “And what do you have to say for yourself?”
The second plaintiff offered an equally eloquent argument. “So you are right,” responded the rabbi.
Listening to their conversation, the rabbi’s wife broke in: “My dear husband, may you live to be one hundred and twenty years, but for heaven’s sake, how can they both be right?”
Stroking his beard, the rabbi concluded: “You are right, too!”
I agree with Josh h. The “I don’t know” mentality is the freest, happiest, most relaxing, best place to be. I think. But I don’t know……