Thursday, September 27, 2007

Lacunae, Part 1c - Faith & Knowledge

I know it's taken me some time to get around to this post. Truth be told, I'm rather intimidated by it. I feel that either I'm saying things that are blatantly obvious to so many, or I'm unable to articulate my feelings or thoughts coherently. Please bear with me, my thoughts are still works in progress.

So how does knowledge and faith truly work? As is made obvious in Alma 32, faith and knowledge are not, as so many suppose, opposites of a continuum. Rather, they are part of the same process. First, though knowledge is vital to our eternal salvation, it is a simple fact that no one will obtain all knowledge while in this life. Therefore, though faith may be dormant in one thing or another, we will never lose our need for it.

Therefore, I'd like to establish that there is never a need to stop exercising faith while we are alive because we will never completely understand everything. Previously, I said that the search for knowledge (both Facts and Truth) is vital to our lives on this earth. Why is that, if we can never gain real, ultimate knowledge? Perhaps the secret lies in understanding our situation here. We are not here to make ourselves perfect. We are here to enjoy the journey. We are here to travel through life and to see if we are willing to submit to the Lord in all things, whether good or painful. In short, we are here to exercise faith, to trust that God will never betray us or do anything that does not ultimately benefit us. To trust God to the point that we are willing to move without complete knowledge, because faith is not a couch potato attribute. You cannot sit and be faithful, you have to exercise it. Faith requires action. Therefore, we turn our faith towards serving God. We serve him by becoming like Him. We are told to learn - to seek knowledge - but only without losing our humility and dependence on God. We are told to let the Holy Ghost guide us to the things we should learn. We are told to learn by studying all we can get our hands on and by faith. The biggest mistake we make is to let pride in our knowledge supersede our need for faith. We allow ourselves to believe that knowledge trumps the need for faith, when in reality our knowledge is dependent upon our faith.

Without faith, we will never gain the Truth. We will be able to quote the scriptures and the General Authorities, but never know the mind of God they are inviting us to investigate. We will be comfortable in our ability to parse words to gain meaning, but never realize that our knowledge of that meaning is imaginary and transient. We will never gain knowledge without faith, because all the knowledge we could possess on our own is nothing. Only faith can lead us to truth. Only faith leads us to truly seeking knowledge. There is no difference between the two, as they are both vital parts to the same process.

In short, this division between those seeking knowledge (the believing skeptics) and those acting by faith (the sheep) is nothing but illusion.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Farewell to a Muse

I have just learned that Madeleine L'engle passed away on September 6th, 2007. Perhaps I am sadly behind the times. This news hit me like a block. Madeleine L'engle was one of my greatest literary and imaginative influences. Each and every book transported me to a place where good can triumph over evil, where beauty thrives despite ugliness, and where one person can be important. I never knew her personally, yet the passing of her light and genius saddens me. It is a loss from which I'm not sure our world can recover. One more inspiration has moved to the other side. Rejoice, Madeleine. You have left a mark of beauty and light in the minds of millions of children. It is one they will not soon forget.

Thank you for your life.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lacunae, Part 1b - Faith & Knowledge

Knowledge can seem to be one of the trickiest concepts in the Gospel. On the one hand, you have the Tree of Knowledge which fruit Adam and Eve ate and as a result were punished “for their sakes” by being banned from the Garden of Eden and from the Tree of Life and put in a position of labor and toil for the rest of their days. On the other hand, we are taught to seek knowledge and learning. With this dichotomy within knowledge itself it is no wonder that though the possession of knowledge is generally seen as good, the seeking of knowledge can be seen as very bad. Rather, to explain further, the methods of seeking knowledge are strictly proscribed. As spoken of in my last post, we have two sides of this coin, those who (in the extreme) believe that faith exceeds a need for knowledge (the “sheep”), and those who believe that knowledge is the ultimate necessity (the “unfaithful”). In the eyes of the faithful, we are allowed and encouraged to seek knowledge, but we must do it in a certain way in order to remain on the “Lord’s side”. Such a search for knowledge may even be seen as unnecessary. To the seekers, knowledge is vital, and restricting the methods of knowledge seeking is often considered oppressive and blinding. I’d like to fill this gap within the concept of knowledge before attempting to fill the gap between knowledge and faith.

To begin to sift through the meaning of knowledge, I would first like to examine two types of knowledge separately. For simplification, I will call one type of knowledge Fact and the other Truth.

Facts are simple statements that cannot be refuted (without delving into hyperphilosophy). For example, I can state that I am tall. Including enough qualifiers to satisfy any arguments of relativity (such as to say that I am tall in relation to the average human female), this is a statement of fact. It is irrefutable. Common facts include statements such as “the sky is blue,” “an apple falls when dropped,” or “during gamete formation each member of the allelic pair separates from the other member to form the genetic constitution of the gamete,” otherwise known as Mendel’s First Law of Genetics.

Science, by definition, is a method by which to pursue the discovery of facts. In science, the qualifiers are examined and controlled in an effort to determine what, exactly, causes observable effects. Once all contributing factors are examined and a final understanding of a given situation is achieved, science is 100% accurate. It is irrefutable. (Note that I said ALL contributing factors. Scientific conclusions often change because factors not previously accounted for or properly understood have to be included. Assuming that every contributing factor has been included and accounted for, science is 100% accurate.)

I don’t want to delve too deeply into all the what-ifs of science. That’s a subject for another discussion entirely and any further attempt to explain what I mean will probably only muddy the waters of what I’m truly trying to discuss, and that is the nature of knowledge. Hopefully, you’re with me so far.

The second type of knowledge I mentioned is Truth. Truth is more than fact. Truth describes the actual nature of a thing. Truth is what we are all actually yearning for, actually wanting in our search for knowledge. To illustrate my meaning, let’s assume that we are discussing my daughter. I could list millions of facts about her. She has a beautiful smile. She likes to eat dirt. She is tall for her age. I could go on forever, especially if I were to get down to descriptions about how her cells function. However, even were I to state every possible fact about her, it would fail to describe what she truly is, the essence of her that awes me every day of my life. There is something about her that is more than a sum of her facts. In order to get a sense of that something, one has to understand her true nature, at least in part.

Compare a fact to a stone. It is solid, real, and you can throw it at people’s heads. If you were to take all the facts about my daughter and pile them one on top of the other in an attempt to build a tower that eventually describes her unique nature, you would fail as assuredly as an attempt to build a tower to heaven fails. You can’t reach heaven by building a tower of stones, and you can’t reach the truth by merely assembling a pile of facts.

The Lord teaches us that in order to understand Truth, we have to be taught by the Spirit. No amount of secular searching will ever find the truth. Though the assembly of facts may prepare our minds to understand the truth, and the facts may round out the truth, they are not the truth, and never can be. No matter how well reasoned, no matter how compelling the argument, a purely secular learning will never encompass an understanding of things “as they really are.” That is why so many will learn and learn and learn and never know the truth.

Though it may offend the faithful, however, seeking facts is necessary to our existence. We cannot ignore the search for knowledge, and facts are part of that search. The Spirit cannot inspire you with knowledge of the ultimate nature of the universe if you don't even understand the scientific nature of the universe. You cannot get a sense of my daughter's true nature without possessing at least some facts about her. On the flip side, though this may be offensive to some who have dedicated their lives to factual seeking, such seeking cannot bring understanding. The simplest primitive can come to a greater knowledge of truth without ever seeing a book than the greatest professors of knowledge in the world. How this is accomplished is the subject for my next installment, which shall hopefully bring the concepts of faith and knowledge together.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Lacunae, Part 1a - Faith & Knowledge

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who do not question their faith and those who live by questioning. These two groups are most commonly referred to as the “sheep” and the “apostates.”

Between these two extremes, I have observed several points in LDS doctrine where something seems to be missing. Almost every personal struggle with the Gospel I have heard or felt manifests within these doctrinal lacunae. I have thought and prayed, seeking the Spirit to teach me about these things, some of which never bothered me until I realized I could not explain them to one who is bothered by them. Others have concerned me to the point of near obsession. This is the first installment of a series of entries I plan to write as I begin to try to reconcile these seeming gaps. They are not intended to trump or belittle any struggles someone may have, they are meant to illustrate and document my own search for understanding.

The first concern that I see lying under so many of the concerns of the questioning mind is that of faith. In theological disagreements, labels of “unfaithful” and “blindly obedient” are often applied. I would like to examine, briefly, the definition of faith. Whenever faith is presented as a topic, the speaker generally brings up Alma 32:21, “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” Mostly, the focus is given on “not seen” and “true.” This scripture seemingly dichotomizes faith and knowledge, placing them at two ends of the spectrum, other than their shared property of truth. It is important to note, however, that it is a perfect knowledge that exists in the absence of faith. As is clear when one reads the rest of the chapter, it is possible to possess both faith and knowledge. Lectures on Faith 1:7 gives a clearer definition of faith as a “moving cause of action.” Faith is actually the driving force behind the search for knowledge. If you did not believe knowledge was attainable, you would not seek it. Similarly, if you believed you had already attained all knowledge, your faith would be dead. A possession of faith is necessary to gain knowledge. This concept indicates that it is possible to be without true faith on both “sides” of the theological spectrum, and also indicates that it is possible to be faithful on both “sides” of the theological spectrum.

With that in mind, I'm going to tender a possibility that some will consider quite offensive, but is an attempt to help bridge the lacuna between the “unfaithful” and the “blindly obedient.” It is often true that those who are the most obedient to the precepts of the Gospel possess the least faith. An easy way to judge this in yourself is to ask yourself the question, “Do I believe I understand the fullness of the Gospel?” If your answer is “yes,” your faith is absent, or “dormant” as Alma taught his listeners. Those deemed the “unfaithful” by other members of the Church must ask themselves a very similar question. An easy way to measure faith on this side is to ask yourself the question “Am I seeking answers, believing God will answer me?” Note that both of these two questions should be asked of yourself, on whichever “side” you believe you are.

Since this has already become quite wordy, and since I've not posted in some time, I would like to leave the examination of the knowledge side of this gap for my next post.

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