Saturday 13 April 2013

Don't allow questions to block belief: faith is primary, doubts should be within faith


Wise and important words excerpted from a talk given by Elder Jeffrey R Holland at the LDS Conference in April 2013:

In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited... 

When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes...

The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.


When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.” That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak!

Let me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have.


Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not!


...Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.

Brothers and sisters, this is a divine work in process, with the manifestations and blessings of it abounding in every direction, so please don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will.


In this Church, what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in this world, everyone is to walk by faith.


So be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women.

Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. 


These are vital words to internalize: especially for intellectuals living in a media/ political/ academic/ educational world which purposefully, systematically generates questions and doubts about Christianity.

Think about it: they can generate (real or apparent) doubts and questions much, much faster than you could possibly deal with them...


Almost all of these questions and doubts are utterly bogus; and the position which these questions and doubts are used to defend is ludicrously incoherent and contra-evidential...

- but, even if this were not the case, there will always be questions and doubts


If we are foolish enough to defer until after we have 'settled' our questions and doubts concerning the deliberate and responsible choice of the believing basis of our lives in faith; then we will implicitly have chosen to accept the prevalent incoherent worldview of alienating nihilism; and we will have have implicitly chosen to reject even the possibility of purpose, meaning, and that joyous personal relationship with God which is being offered us conditional merely upon our free acceptance of this gift.


Faith never has, and never could be, and neither should it, wait upon the resolution of all questions and doubts: to believe is to 'live by', and that is something we are doing at every moment. 

Thus faith is here, it is now: faith is always happening - and we must and do always choose in the absence of resolution of doubts and questions. 



Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Faith never has, and never could be, and neither should it, wait upon the resolution of all questions and doubts

In fact, resolution of the most important questions and doubts come after the gift of faith is received and integrated: Credere ut intelligere, to believe in order to understand...

Daybreaker said...

Think about it: [i]they[/i] can generate (real or apparent) doubts and questions much, much faster than [i]you[/i] could possibly deal with them...

That's very true.

They can also argue their positions more vociferously, and when they care to with more professional skill than you can. (Of course, they usually don't care to. The nature of political correctness in "debate" is just what you said it was in Thought Prison.)

In his book Taking Our Own Side, Michael Polignano includes a "debate" he had as an undergraduate at an American university, when he said something he thought would be only mildly controversial about race, and was promptly required to defend his "wholly repugnant" opinions or be condemned in his absence. So he fronted up, and was given five minutes to make his case, every part of which was against the left wing academic consensus, and so required to be argued for bit by bit. The opposition to one frightened undergraduate was six professors, each with five minutes, so in sum, half an hour to his five minutes. With this, and the pure fear of academic and life-chances consequences, and the fear of saying too much, too boldly, in an environment where doubt that he had a proven case would be the same as proof that he was lying with racist malice and deserved the harshest measures, he was reduced to defending a hyper-cautious, minimalist, evasive and barely-there version of what he really believed, and what he believed people needed to acknowledge to live good lives. But he could live with himself afterwards, which is quite an accomplishment under the circumstances.

The attitude that Lord Russell had, that you weren't entitled to beliefs unless you could rationally defend them, doesn't work in an environment like this. The version of your beliefs that you can defend under what the professors consider rational examination is a gruel too thin to live on.

Yet that was almost an ideal case, with the mass media not actively deployed, with as much fairness as the people of politically correct opinions will ever give you, and a bright, naturally bold, strongly committed young man, who was not much like the average person trying not to get bluffed or harangued out of his or her vital beliefs.

Daybreaker said...

Under enough pressure - which politically correct society pervasively and automatically applies - even the naturally bod start defending the weakest version of their positions they can, in order not to suffer the consequences of being convicted of maliciously having argued for a false belief, or a belief containing falsity, or some arguable falsity. Instead of arguing, "Professor Jensen is right, and if he wasn't the left would have torn him down decades ago, because they're all slavering to do it," you say, "there is still room to doubt that Professor Jensen's views have been conclusively refuted, and even to wonder if they will ever be fully refuted."

And so on. Instead of saying "Stephen Jay Gould lied," you say there are reasons to doubt the accuracy of some parts of his writings. On abortion, you say that support for it "implies the willingness to kill defenseless and innocent human beings" when that is very far short of what ought to be said, just because that's a convenient position to argue.

Re-shaping your beliefs to be "rationally defensible" means thinning them out so severely that they are useless for any purpose except (hopefully) evading punishment while avoiding the same of a false recantation.

If you internalize politically correct society's endless torrent of doubts, quibbles, denigrations and so on as legitimate, you'll incline to shape anything you believe in opposition to it to be "defensible" which is to say weak, cold, slippery and useless for acting on. And what's useless for acting on you won't act on. And so it will come to seem hollow and false.

Bruce Charlton said...

@D - A chilling story.

In fact, there are very very few situations in which anything approaching rational argument is possible - not least because there are very very few people capable of it - and even these very very few have a restricted range of subject matter...

jgress said...

Does the same go for Leftist or PC positions themselves? Are they as hard to defend as traditionalist positions? Or is it simply that their positions are defensible, and ours are not?

Bruce Charlton said...

@jgress - No, Leftist positions are not defensible. But in modern life they do not need to be defended; indeed modern life is specifically set-up such that Leftist positoins do not need to be defended: they are assumed (and the stupidity or evil nature of any persons who question them is also assumed).

jgress said...

That makes sense. But I think a rational defense of traditional positions can be made if we focus on the unquestioned assumptions of leftist ethics, which is basically "an it harm none, do what thou wilt". The basic, unquestioned premise is that whatever we feel like doing at the moment is good, unless we have proof that it's harmful. So, when it comes to sexual ethics, they put the burden of proof on traditionalists to show that it's harmful.

But the traditionalist view is that one's urges are not assumed to be good; in fact, one's urges are typically assumed to be bad, based on the idea of original/ancestral sin! So the burden of proof should actually be on those who want to give in to those urges; they have to show that a positive good will result. Good luck trying to demonstrate that homosexuality offers a positive good!

Also, the definition of "harm" is pretty narrow. It seems to be limited to either physical harm, or the kind of psychological harm that results in supposedly bad feelings, like the feeling of being deprived.

At least, this is where I would start with such a defense. But I agree with the Mormon you quoted, that's it's all right to simply affirm your belief in something and put off a comprehensive defense until you have the time to come up with one.