A Bloggernacle Favorite: Debating Certainty

Bloggernaclist post and comment frequently on the subject of “certainty”. It’s a polarizing subject. One camp is adamant that knowing, which is certainty, isn’t possible. The other camp says they know, and wonder why someone wants to challenge their use of words.

I’ve attempted to break out a few of the main arguments contained in these posts. This post is but a brief exploration of the topic.

I’ve also included comments under each heading that have been made by posters and commentators.

1.  Growing up “knowing”

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God. I guess I was born knowing that I am a child of God. The same thing is true about the restoration of the church through the prophet Joseph Smith. I just know.

One of my biggest hangups with the LDS Church is the inherent superiority complex that comes with growing up KNOWING. It’s just awful, and if I had the power to change one thing about the Church, it would be removing that phrase (”I know such-and-such is true”) from LDS members’ vocabulary…

2.  Believing vs. Knowing

I once bore my testimony and talked about how I’m not comfortable saying I “know” but choose “I choose to believe” or “This idea makes me feel . . .” The very next person marched up right after me and was totally dismissive of the distinction I had drawn and even said: “Well I can’t speak for her, but I DO know.” (eyeroll)

I know without a doubt that God lives. I guess that if someone else does not believe that and says they know without a doubt that He does not live, I have to conclude that I am right, and they are wrong. But, I respect their right to be wrong and to believe the way they do. I don’t feel threatened by it, and it doesn’t cause me to question what I know. I think problems arise when one person or group of people feels that what they “know” entitles them to force their beliefs on others.

…it bothers me greatly when someone says with certainty that I can’t know with certainty.

…I’m not offended by the formula “I know that…” I understand the rhetorical purpose behind it. But it doesn’t work for me semantically (it really is more rhetoric than reality). I haven’t said “I know” for many years. I prefer expressions like “I believe,” “I have faith that,” “I trust that.” That’s what works for me.

3.  Certainty to Uncertainty/Uncertainty to Certainty

I followed the same trajectory, from being absolutely-certain to not-so-certain to uncertain. The emotional rollercoaster that accompanied the journey was similarly predictable, from feeling happy/content to feeling anxious/confused/sad to eventually feeling peaceful/happy again.

The more certain someone is that they see the full picture and know the full truth, the more they are likely to retain that certainty even if the things about which they are certain change radically. I would be willing to bet that most of the most vitriolic, hyperbolic, bitter, intolerant ex-mos once were among the most certain Mormons when they were active. When they believed, everyone who didn’t were sinners, unlike them; when they left and changed their beliefs, that basic perspective didn’t change.

“Certainty” regarding the restoration of the church through the prophet Joseph Smith can be acquired in only one way according to the scriptures—it has to be revealed (Moroni 10:4-5). If we arrive at “certainty” in any other way it will eventually turn to uncertainty.

Another way of saying this is that God has so designed the world that the natural man can not find God on his own (1 Corinthians 2:14). God cannot be found via the tools used to acquire knowledge. All the advancements of science in recent generations does not include a discovery that allows mankind to communicate with God.

If incontrovertible archeological evidence were to be found today that the Book of Mormon is indeed a true record, and the Smithsonian were to put this evidence on display, would the world beat a path to our missionaries to be baptized?

Certainly the church would grow in numbers but what percentage of the world truly be converted? And in two hundred years where would mankind find themselves?

4. Other religions

What if God looked down on all of his children spread from one end of a very large earth to the other, and realized just how tricky it might be to meet each of their individual needs. He might have realized like many parents do, that with each child would need him to be a different parent. Some would never hear his word if he only sent it through one religion. Some would need more structure, the ones who felt happiest when giving laws and rules to follow. Some would live with a free heart and nature, they would need access to God the same way, breezy and free. The world is a big place, he had lots of children he needed to cover. Maybe God was so worried about his children not hearing his voice that he sent lots of religions. Lots of different ways for his children to find him, each one different, each one to meet the needs of children with different strengths living in different places in this world. I am not saying he did, I am just saying What if?

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­—

…As I’ve gotten to know other individuals from other faiths and other religious traditions, I’ve come to the conclusion that Church members don’t have a monopoly on spiritual experiences–other people have had very powerful experiences that mirror my experiences–they describe them in the same language I do (and many of these people rely on them, as I do, as evidence or the correctness of this religious beliefs). We are taught that our spiritual experiences are somehow better or more pure or more profound than the spiritual experiences of others–we like to believe (or at least we are taught) that we have superior access to “the spirit” because we have the Holy Ghost, etc. This is a very arrogant approach to life and to the religious experiences of others… For me it was very hard to give up the spiritual “superiority complex” I carried around with me until I was past 30–it was really hard in some ways–but I agree there are benefits associated with adopting a more humble position–a position of “I don’t know.”

I just know. There’s not a lot I know. I have plenty of doubts — but I know what I have experienced. I’ve known since I had very specific experiences of knowing in my heart…I don’t know what a Muslim or Catholic has experienced — or even heard one ever claim to have experiences of knowing. But I know what I have experienced. If they make an opposite claim, I cannot examine their experiences or know them — but I know my own.

Saying “I know the church is true” is not the same as saying “I know there is truth no where else”. We are taught otherwise. We are taught that everyone has the light of Christ. The LDS church has taught about encouraging new converts to bring their truths with them…how Luther was inspired. The uniqueness that is Islam.

5. Criticizing and Name Calling

“I know without a doubt that God lives”… That’s the most condescending, arrogant thing I’ve read on this thread…. has been the starting statement to plethora of unthinkable acts through the centuries is undisputed “I sincerely believe” is a much more attractive and appropriate statement… but like many on this comment board, the use of the term “know without out any doubt” is in my opinion a childish term.

I do believe that the gift of certainty can be corrupted into arrogance.

“I do believe that the gift of certainty can be corrupted into arrogance.”

Nice. I guess the corollary would be that uncertainty can also be corrupted into arrogance. My husband and I have had many an “enthusiastic discussion” re: who is more arrogant–people who cling to their certain stance or people who cling to their “you can’t possibly be certain” stance.

And simply assuming that your experiences are superior (or more correct, or more profound, etc.) is, at it’s core, a pretty arrogant thing to do…

the very claim that I can decide what is and is not arrogance is of itself arrogant.

Summary

After reading many post and hundreds of comments from those on both sides of this argument I noticed that the scriptures are rarely used.  I wonder why?

When the scriptures and the words of church leaders are used this issue doesn’t seem to be so difficult to understand.

The scripture teach that we can know certain things. For example, note the use of the word “know” in the following verses from the Book of Mormon:

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.  Moroni 10:5

And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know… Alma 32:34

Elder McConkie says something that helps put things into perspective:

All men do not come into this world with the same inclination toward or receptiveness of spiritual things. One of the greatest endowments a mortal man can receive is the gift of spirituality, the talent and ability to recognize and cleave unto the truth. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me,” our Lord said. (John 10:27.) That is, his sheep so lived in pre-existence as to develop the gift of spirituality there; then coming to mortality, they brought that talent with them, and consequently they find it easy to believe and follow the true Shepherd.Mormon Doctrine, P. 761.

In my minds eye, I see multitudes on a path moving in the same direction. Some are moving quickly, some are lingering, some are turning back. There are millions of people on the path, all at various places. People are leaving the path, some are returning to the path after having left. Those closest to the destination, when questioned, express certainty about the journey, those at the back are not as certain but continue forward. Those in the middle of the group posses a strong belief and are confident that the path will lead them to a special place.

I hope that all church members will stay on the path. In my opinion, this will result in uncertainty being replaced with certainty. This is the message of the Lord to His followers via our handbook–the scriptures.

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