“My beloved brothers and sisters, my dear friends, it’s a joy to be with you today.”
When Elder Uchtdorf speaks, I have no doubt he truly loves those to whom he preaches. I love his humility, honesty, and humorous storytelling. He’s a charismatic man with a great accent and an incredible head of hair capable of making my grandma sit up straighter than she has since his last sermon. While it is important to keep this key demographic interested, it is not as important as his warm and open heart. Despite my currently-held belief system, I see Dieter as a good man who is doing his best to live the doctrine he preaches.
I know that Dieter, like myself, can only speak from his own experience, and should not be held responsible for that which he does not know. It is in this attitude that I write a response to his remarks given this October morning. I wish to be kind and respectful towards him and towards each of you. I will, however, be unapologetic in my beliefs and critique of the things which he has spoken.
There are three main issues I have with his sermon. First, he minimizes a search for truth to a cheap one-liner. Second, he promotes a fearful approach to truth discovery, especially as it pertains to the internet. Finally, he diminishes the real and emotional experiences of those members who don’t find fulfillment within the church.
President Uchtdorf began by misquoting George Carlin. “It went like this: ‘Tell a man there are trillions of stars in the universe, and he’ll believe you. Tell him there’s wet paint on the wall and he’ll touch it just to be sure.’”
Not only does this joke devalue a search for truth, but it also unfairly shames those who a hunger to experience it for themselves.
If God is omniscient, and members of the church are to become like God, shouldn’t they be encouraged to seek these experiences for themselves?
Oh, wait. Never mind. They have been!
Elder Hugh B. Brown said, “I admire men and women who have developed the questioning spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas and stepping stones to progress. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression. Neither fear of consequence nor any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought.
People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences. We must preserve freedom of the mind and resist all efforts to suppress it.”
Here Elder Uchtdorf in 2013 says that seeking truth “is more than an opportunity; it is an obligation, my young friends. It is an obligation, and it is one of the reasons we were sent to this earth.”
Seeking for the truth is an obligation because it is supposedly designed to lead to a testimony. Testimonies about Joseph Smith, the Restoration, Jesus Christ, the Atonement, tithing, and even the Word of Wisdom are required to gain admittance to the temple. Let’s not forget that the temple is the only place where “sacred, essential ordinances” can be performed. An honest journey towards a testimony of these things could result in eternal salvation. It is not the same as sticking a hand to a wall.
According to Mormon doctrine, any man who asks for a testimony of the Book of Mormon in faith (which means working to find the answer), shall be given it. Thereby, he may also “come to know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is His revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the Second Coming of the Messiah.” (Introduction to the Book of Mormon)
Since these testimonies should be obtained so simply and have been deemed so necessary for eternal salvation, shouldn’t every member of the church want to find one? Don’t the scriptures recommend gaining knowledge even by faith, but also by study? Won’t the Spirit tell you in your heart and in your mind if something is right? Isn’t an honest inquiry of a young boy to know for himself the whole reason we ended up here?
Someone who investigates these “eternal truths” with sincerity to follow through on any answer he might find is not the same as a child touching his hand to a wall when his parents have warned against it.
Elder Uchtdorf should not have begun his talk with a joke that goes against the “find a testimony for yourself” perspective that is shouted from pulpits all over the world.
This metaphor is harmful for another reason. It also implies that those people who want to know for themselves are less intelligent or faithful than the members who don’t ask questions.
There are members of the church who are content to put their trust in the arm of the flesh and believe whatever the prophet says without personal investigation. According to this metaphor, that is to be celebrated. The people who seek to know for themselves, those who stick out their hand in faith and find an answer, come away with a paint-stained hand and a satisfied mind.
Personally, I’d rather be an experienced, rainbow-splotched inquirer than an inexperienced, white-washed conformist.
Immediately following Elder Uchtdorf’s troubling warning about the pursuit of truth, he jumps into an anecdote about looking for medical advice on the internet.
Let’s be real. It’s cancer, Dieter. Web MD says it’s always cancer.
In this portion of the talk, he says that in looking for “truth of which my doctors were unaware or had tried to keep from me,” he had come to forget about “Truth that he could rely on,” and instead found himself in realm of “Outlandish Claims of Internet Lore.”
Let’s be real. If you are reading this right now, you are probably pretty familiar with the internet. You know that a friend’s facebook status claiming that “Mark Zuckerberg is going to steal your puppy if you don’t copy and paste this into your status bar right now!!1!” is total garbage and that you can trust the thousands of online news sources that have debunked this claim.
Likewise, you can know the difference between a statement issued by singer/dancer/actor/middle-aged heartthrob Donny Osmond (http://donny.com/my-beliefs/) and The Proclamation to the World.
I’ll admit, it’s pretty cool that one time, some guy on his mission in Peru met someone who had heard of a widow being cured of her arthritis by knitting a mantel for the sacrament table. Yet, a first-hand account written by a witness to the miracle would be much more credible.
You get the point: some sources are credible and others are not.
Non-Mormon/Ex-Mormon/Anti-Mormon/Never-Heard-of-Mormon internet is much the same.
There are the over-the-top, Matt Walsh-esque personal blogs. There are people who are angry, people who are uneducated, and there are people who believe that magenta comic sans is the best way to keep the attention of your readers.
That being said, there are also those who have spent countless hours doing research before raising their own voice. There are support groups for people who feel like they have been abandoned by God and by those who profess to follow him. There are first-hand interviews with people like Tom Phillips, a stake president in England who received the secret second anointing, then later left the church. There are lists and lists of sermons where first-hand accounts can be found at http://journalofdiscourses.com/. There are well-presented arguments and thoughtful debate. (Like the http://cesletter.com/, the http://debunking-cesletter.com/, and the debunking of the debunking of the CES letter http://cesletter.com/debunking-fairmormon/).
Don’t allow a fear of finding a different answer than the one you’ve hoped for prevent you from searching. Also, let’s note that a doctor doesn’t tell you you’re healthy without first administering an examination just because it’s the nice thing to hear.
After all, Joseph Smith himself stated that “one of the Grand Fundamental Principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from where it may.”
Which brings us back to President Uchtdorf’s talk from two years ago where he said (and this is the Church’s summary, not mine) “that when the opinions or “truths” of others contradict what an individual already knows, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be helpful and would augment or complement knowledge, individuals often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that the other person is misinformed or trying to deceive.”
President Uchtdorf also reminded listeners that just because something is printed on paper, appears on the Internet, is frequently repeated, or has a powerful group of followers does not make it true.
On a different occasion, Dieter quoted Michael Christon: “If you don’t know history, you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”
And, according to J. Reuben Clark, “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.” (J. Reuben Clark, D. Michael Quinn (1983). The Church Years, p 24. Provo (UT): Brigham Young University Press)
Be ye therefore unafraid.
If the LDS church is true, then it can be investigated.
It has been done. There are scholars like Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens who have researched and studied and remain faithful members of the church.
Do you know the tree to which you are bound?
Do you really know the history of the church?
Do you know that there are four different accounts of the First Vision?
Do you know that Joseph told a 14 year old girl that he was commanded by an angel to marry her or die?
Do you know the real reason Joseph was incarcerated?
Do you know that Joseph asked his friends to sign an affidavit saying that polygamy wasn’t being practiced?
Do you know that Brigham Young taught the Doctrine of the Blood Atonement?
Do you know that mixed-race marriage was condemned by the church?
Have you really lived up to the obligation you have to find truth?
Are you only reading one-sided arguments?
Is the LDS church true?
It didn’t withstand my investigation or the investigation of many others.
But, please, don’t take my word for it.
Stick your hand to the wall.
The paint is wet.
Let’s move on from my “Outlandish Claims of Internet Lore”, and ask another question.
What counts as Reliable Truth?
Truth resonates. Truth is timeless. Truth is objective. Truth can be scrutinized from every angle. Truth ends arguments. Truth answers questions, not silences them. Truth is unafraid. Truth is unobjectionable.
A good feeling just doesn’t cut it for me.
Speaking of good feelings, let’s wrap this up.
I am glad that Dieter addressed members who don’t feel happy about the church all the time. I would daresay that makes up nearly all of us.
Which is totally fine.
Do you feel great about work all of the time?
Does every interaction with your family radiate with fulfilment?
Is there anything that is really perfect every time for everyone
I can’t think of anything.
It’s not normal to feel happily fulfilled in every facet of your life every day of your life. It’s okay to feel like something is wrong. It’s okay to change course. It isn’t a problem to feel bad when you are in a situation that makes you feel bad.
Instead of validating and expressing his understanding for the way these members feel, he shares his solution for a higher level of satisfaction: simplification.
He recommends a recentering of the soul, towards Christ, and away from the frills and the fringe doctrines that don’t really matter anyway.
But the problem is, if these doctrines are to be taken the way that Joseph Smith and other leaders intended, they must be taken as literal doctrines from God.
We are not free “to pick and choose a few cultural hors d’oeuvres from the smorgasbord of the Restoration and leave the rest of the feast”. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/10/the-first-great-commandment?lang=eng
It seems to me that to simplify to the degree that Elder Uchtdorf at least implies would be to set aside those parts of mormonism that are icky to the taste and not at all desirable.
If I can’t choose to adopt the “love thy neighbor”, “feed the hungry”, and “stand up for Truth, even when it’s unpopular” without also getting a large helping of racism, sexism, teenage brides, polyandry, deceit, murder, false translations, archaeology (or lack thereof), masonry, and mounds of contrary scientific evidence, then I don’t want to be a member of this church at all.
To simplify, It’s much easier and more fulfilling for me to live a Christ-like life without justifying the un-Christlike behaviors and doctrines rampant in Mormon history.
I have found fulfilment in proceeding to live the best life I know how to live. I have found fulfilment in serving my neighbors, in loving my friends, in bringing truth to light.
“Tolerance and truth demand that all be heard and that competing ideas be tested against each other so that the best, which might not always be our own, can prevail. Knowledge is the most complete and dependable when all points of view are heard.”
~Apostle Hugh B. Brown, An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown, p. 156